Wrongful Death Lawyer
Did you know that, in 2019, there were 5,237 large trucks and buses involved in a fatal crash? Moreover, did you know that from 2016 to 2019 the number of injury crashes involving large trucks increased by 13% (from 112,000 in 2016 to 127,000 in 2019)? As most everyday drivers know, driving next to semis and other large trucks increases anxiety and fear from other non-large truck drivers – as these statistics show, deservedly so. Interestingly, the question arises, why has there been an uptick in accidents in recent years? While most would agree to disagree on the root cause, one interesting possibility is that of the “chameleon carrier.”
What is a chameleon carrier?
A “chameleon carrier” is an FMC that attempts to mask noncompliance of safety regulations by creating (i.e., a new US MC Dot Number) or using an affiliated company under common operational control. They do this by shifting customers, vehicles, drivers, etc. to an affiliated company when the FMCSA places the other out of commission. FMCs often do this to avoid payment of civil penalties, loss of revenue, and compliance with applicable statutes or regulations.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Standards
All Federal Motor Carriers (“FMCs”) must meet certain safety standards set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (“FMCSA”). 49 CFR § 385 enables the FMCSA to suspend or revoke the operating authority registration of for-hire motor carriers – i.e., chameleon carriers – that disregard safety compliance; permit persons showing disregard for safety compliance to control operations; or operate multiple entities under common control to conceal noncompliance with safety regulations. This rule was enacted to enhance the safety of commercial vehicle operations on United States highways.
49 CFR § 385 uses a two-part framework to determine whether FMCs are operating illegally. The first part determines whether the FMC has failed to meet safety standards and has attempted to conceal such noncompliance. If the first part is found, then the FMCSA evaluates the facts surrounding the conduct to determine whether the FMC has engaged in a pattern of safety violations and is using other entities under common control to avoid or mask the noncompliance. After weighing specific factors, if the FMCSA determines that the FMC has engaged in such conduct, the FMC may have its operating authority registration revoked and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.
FMCSA’s 49 CFR § 385.5 establishes a safety fitness standard. The safety fitness standard requires that an FMC demonstrate it has adequate safety management controls in place that function to ensure acceptable compliance with applicable safety requirements to reduce the risk of collisions and injury on United States roadways.
An Example of Failure to Meet Safety Standards
For example, imagine an accident resulting in a fatality occurs on the I-15 South – the highway runs through Las Vegas and down into the Southern Valley of California. Imagine further that a large truck driver has just gotten back on the road after driving 12 hours the day before with no rest stops, and had a 6-pack at lunch. While attempting to merge onto the freeway, the truck driver cuts off a family making their way to San Diego. As a result, the family car swerves to avoid the incoming semi, loses control and overturns (rolls over), and two of the family members pass away, and the other two are in the hospital with serious injuries. Further imagine that this was not the first time the truck had an incident like this and had just failed to meet the safety fitness safety standard and created a new US MC Dot Number in order to keep operating – illegally. What happens?
Here, the FMC, and the driver specifically, is acting in violation of 49 CFR § 385.5(c) – the improper use and driving of motor vehicles. This section is governed by the FMCSA’s 49 CFR § 392. More specifically, 49 CFR § 392.4(a)(2) prohibits a driver on duty to possess or be under the influence of any substance. Here, the driver was on duty and under the influence of alcohol when the injury occurred. Therefore, the driver violated 49 CFR § 392.4(a)(2).
The FMCSA, when applying its two-part test to determine whether this company adequately met the safety standard, would likely find the factor from 49 CFR § 385.7 (b) – the frequency and severity of regulation violations – determinative. This is because the driver violated 49 CFR § 392.4(a)(2) – a severe regulatory violation, not only on this occasion, but also on a prior occasion which resulted in the failure of adequately meeting the safety fitness standard. Thus, the driver and the company could be liable for extensive penalties.
So, while there are remedies for a situation like this, the best way to prevent it is to stay alert while driving – stay safe out there!
Thanks to Eglet Adams – well-regarded wrongful death lawyers – for their insight on Chameleon Carriers.