Level of Care for Commercial Truck Drivers

An appellate court in California reversed a jury verdict because of a trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury pursuant to the federal standard of care requiring “extreme care” as opposed to the reasonable care standard. The appellate court held that this was prejudicial error requiring a remand for a new trial.

California law has a negligence per se just as we have in Tennessee. It allows violations of federal regulations to give constitute negligence per se.

Read this:

“Comparing the basic speed law instruction utilized by the court with the federal regulation proposed by appellants, each requires the operator of a vehicle to consider inclement weather and additional hazards which may result from operation of a vehicle under such conditions. Each suggests that the operator must increase his or her diligence in how the vehicle is operated. But the standard of diligence in each is different. The basic speed law requires only that a driver shall not drive at a speed “greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather . . . .” (Veh. Code, ㋔ 22350, italics added.) The federal standard requires the driver of a commercial vehicle to use “extreme caution” and to reduce speed when hazardous conditions exist. (49 C.F.R. ㋔ 392.14.)”

Here is the precise language from Section 392.14 in context: “Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist.”

Thus, the Court ruled, the trial judge was required to instruct the jury on the higher standard set forth by federal law and the failure to do so was negligence.

This is an important case. Lawyers would be advised to ask the Court to instruct the jury on the federal regulation and the fact that the violation of the regulation is negligence per se.

Read the opinion in Weaver v. Chavez here.