The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently avoided liability in a tragic accident that took place over five years ago. The tragic accident that led to this suit seriously injured two people on a bus ride from North Carolina to New York. Following the accident, those two survivors sued the FMCSA for its role, or lack of a role in preventing the accident.
According to its website, the FMCSA is charged with reducing crashes, injuries, and deaths involving large trucks and buses. And this is not a hollow statement. In fact, the federal government through congress has endowed the FMCSA with enormous powers to accomplish this goal. These regulators can stop any truck, bus, or company from doing its job at any time if the agency finds or feels that continued operations pose a threat to the public safety.
In addition to their wide ranging power over transportation companies, the FMCSA gets an annual budget of over half a billion dollars. That money goes into paying inspectors, lawyers, and other regulators that are supposed to fulfill their charge to regulate the transportation industry.
FMCSA Grants Reprieve
It was in this environment that the FMCSA shut down operations of a bus company in 2011. After a spot inspection over how the company was operating, it was shut down by the agency for several violations. To prevent a shutdown, the company asked the FMCSA to reconsider their position in light of several changes the company said it was making. The agency granted them a 10-day reprieve to continue operations in light of those changes.
Tragically for the victims involved, after being granted an exception to a shutdown, one of the company’s buses crashed. According to court documents, the driver of the bus fell asleep in route to New York, and the bus crashed. Following the accident, two of the victims sued the agency arguing that they were negligent by allowing the company to continue operations.
The victims sued the agency under the Federal Tort Claims Act. This is a law enacted by congress to allow a victim of government negligence to sue the agency or government responsible for any injuries due to negligence. But not all cases are allowed. In particular, when an agency makes a discretionary decision that causes an accident, the victim may not sue. It was that principle the FMCSA argued and won at the court of appeals.
According to the agency, they could not be held responsible for granting a 10-day reprieve when that authority to make those judgments is part of their job. And the court of appeals agreed with this assessment. According to their opinion, the FMCSA could not be held liable because it would limit future decision making ability and could limit the agency’s future discretionary review of matters.
Navigating Through Regulations
The trucking industry is one of the most, if not the most, regulated industries in the country. Every trucking company faces regulations at the federal, state, and local level. Successfully navigating those regulations and laws requires the experience and counsel of successful transportation law attorneys. At Anderson and Yamada, P.C., we can help your company navigate its way starting today. Contact us so we can begin guiding in the web of regulations and laws your company faces.