PROVING CORPORATE NEGLIGENCE IN COMPANY VEHICLE CRASH CASES
Proving corporate misconduct is a proven path to a big verdict. Juries are more likely to have a “reptilian” response and render a verdict that protects their community when the evidence shows a corporation made choices that endangered the public. In trucking cases, we have the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as a guide for what companies are supposed to do. But how do we set the standard for business other than trucking companies?
One answer is ANSI Standard Z15.1: Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations. ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, is a non-profit company that sets out consensus safety standards in a number of areas. Standard Z15.1 is the standard which applies to organizations that operate motor vehicles. The standard was developed by a committee made up of representatives from the industry, insurance companies, and safety experts. While ANSI standards are voluntary, they have been admitted in court to show evidence of what an ordinarily prudent company would do. See, e.g. Dixon v. International Harvester Co., 754 F.2d 573, 581 (5th Cir. 1985).
ANSI Standard Z15.1 requires companies that operate motor vehicles to make a commitment to safety. All levels of management should be involved and, and held accountable for, a safety program’s development, management and implementation. The company’s senior leadership is required to allocate sufficient staff and financial resources to manage and support the overall motor vehicle safety program. This program should include a formal written safety policy and system of responsibility and accountability, as well as systems for driver qualification and vehicle inspections and maintenance.
The standard requires that companies set standards for what kind of driving record is acceptable for its drivers, and to check driving records as part of the driver qualification process. It also requires driver training programs, and a trained observer ride along with new drivers to assess them. Companies are required to maintain records on a driver, including the completed application form, a copy of the driving record, information on reference checks, training records, and a copy of a current driver’s license.
It also requires companies to establish policies regarding distracted driving and aggressive driving. The distracted driving policy should address cell phone use, texting, e-mailing, eating, and even use of the CD player. The aggressive driving policy should include speeding, tailgating, failure to signal lane changes, and running stop signs and red lights.
Companies are also required to have journey and fatigue management policies. The journey management procedures should include route planing. The fatigue management should require adequate rest breaks, avoid long ours of driving, avoid driving at night, screening for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
In addition to driving-related policies, the ANSI standard also requires a system for vehicle inspections and maintenance. This requirement includes regular vehicle inspections and visual pre-operation vehicle checks.
ANSI Standard Z15.1 is a powerful tool to help establish corporate negligence. Admitting the standard may require expert testimony. The standard can be purchased online through the American Society of Safety Engineers website.