Truck Drivers Protected Under Law over Safety Complaints

April 9 2013

FEMATrucking is a heavily regulated industry and some shifty carriers may want to cut safety corners for profit, even if it means putting others at risk. That’s why truck drivers have some legal recourse when they might be asked to drive a truck that they view is not safe to operate on the road.  The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was put in effect in 1982 to make sure that employers cannot terminate or discriminate against drivers who complain about safety violations. Those drivers can even refuse to operate a truck if they deem it to be unsafe. Doing so carries a risk that a carrier may fire them, but as Cargo Express found out recently, it could mean they end up paying more in the end if a trucker files suit.

What It Might Cost

T.J. Graff filed such a suit against Cargo Express and not only was the carrier told to reinstate Graff, but they were also ordered to pay $90,000 for damages and back pay missed by the trucker while he was out of a job. The case started when Graff reported an oil and air leak on a carrier-assigned truck and refused to operate the vehicle. Not soon afterwards the company fired Mr. Graff claiming that it was for not meeting a mileage monthly standard. The court that heard the case ruled that since no other truck drivers had been fired for maintaining a low mileage record, that the actual cause was the fact that Mr. Graff reported safety violations and refused to operate the truck. That action, the court ruled, constitutes a wrongful termination under the STAA and the carrier was liable was found liable for lost wages plus punitive damages. Of the $90,000 awarded to Mr. Graff a little over $65,000 was estimated due to lost wages and the rest was to teach the errant carrier a lesson.

The Pace of Justice

The initial case was filed on June 7th, 2010 and has been under investigation till now. Safety violations are taken very seriously by regulatory agencies, especially when carriers knowingly try to coerce their drivers to ignore them. Truck drivers may want to keep a job, but doing so at the expense of the safety of others on the road, not to mention their own, is not worth keeping the piece. Truck drivers can at least feel more confident that their safety complaints are being taken seriously and that they do have the law on their side. For carriers who want to try to ignore safety regulations, the message is clear: You won’t get away with it. You may save yourself the hassle now but a mistake can come back to haunt you in later years.

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