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5 ways to depose a trucking company’s safety manager – Part 2

Written by Steve Gursten Posted October 3rd, 2013

Areas to inquire about when deposing the truck company safety director

In my last blog post, I discussed the reasons lawyers should take safety director depositions in trucking cases. Today I’m sharing my 5 tips to deposing the truck company safety manager.

1. Does the trucking company even have a safety manager?

This is square one. If a trucking company does not have a safety manager, then how does it ensure safety?  How is it meeting its required obligation, under federal and state law, to protect the public by putting safe trucks and safe drivers on the road?  This takes putting profits over safety to a new level of reckless disregard.

In my Michigan trial called Shekoski v. Allied Trucking Company, the trucking company responsible for the death of an 83-year-old man cared so little for safety that they did not even employ a dedicated safety manager.  The driver was unfit, and had many prior traffic violations, even other accidents. The company had previously warned him about speeding. This driver cost Mr. Shekoski his life, when he was run over by Allied’s semi truck as he tried to legally cross the street on his bicycle.

2. Focus on the safety manager’s qualifications

Assuming a trucking company actually does have a safety manager to depose, focus on his or her qualifications during your deposition. Did the  company hire an under-qualified person to manage its fleet of semi-trucks? I’ve found in more than one case that this safety director is related to the owner of the company, but has no other qualifications for this important job. Ask questions to determine if the safety manager is familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) such that he or she could competently ensure the truck drivers and the company are in compliance.

And as an aside, if a safety manager is not familiar with the FMCSRs, that in itself is a violation of the rules. Most good trucking companies require their safety mangers to hold a Bachelor’s degree in logistics or transportation, or at least in management. Many companies even require that the safety manager hold a Master’s Degree or higher.  In addition to the FMCSRs, the safety manager should also be familiar with applicable environmental laws, fuel permits and rules regarding operating authority. 

3. Focus on the safety manager’s experience

In addition to focusing on the safety manager’s qualifications, as a truck accident attorney, you want to inquire as to  his or her  experience. Does the  safety manager even have a CDL? Ask whether he or she has a CDL, or has ever held a CDL.

A lawyer should inquire whether the witness has any previous safety management experience. You will want to ask if they have ever managed another safety program before. You also want to find out if the witness received any training from the company before he or she started on the job as the safety manager.

Ask if the safety manger has ever worked as a truck driver. That is highly relevant, as to whether the person in charge of  managing the company’s fleet of semi-trucks has ever driven a semi-truck. Find out if the witness has ever done a pre-trip inspection, or filled out a log book. Find out if he or she has any practical life experience at all.

If the answer to all of these questions is “no” (which it frequently is), this exposes a disregard for safety by the truck company.  It also exposes a complete disregard for its obligations under federal and state law to have these programs in place and to supervise and enforce them.

4. Focus on the safety manager’s – and the company’s – hiring practices

The safety manager often, if not always, plays a key role in the hiring process. Ask the witness whether he or she examined the driving records of the company’s truck drivers before hiring them. Ask whether the witness contacted the truckers’ previous employers.  Both are required under the FMCSRs.

Beyond that, focus on whether the safety manger, or the company, had established any formal training for the truckers before putting them behind the wheel. And if the truck driver was transporting a special load, such as hazardous materials, make sure you incorporate that into your line of questioning as well.

There are special rules for transporting liquids, Hazmats, etc., so ask whether the safety director is familiar with those special rules, and whether he or she took steps to adequately train their truck drivers before they transported said materials.

5. Turn the safety manager into your witness

What does this mean? Begin by laying the “Miller mousetrap,”  an excellent  deposition technique created by my friend and jury consultant, Philip Miller. Every truck accident attorney should be familiar with this technique.

When deposing the safety manager, have the safety manager  acknowledge the rule (regulation) that the company has violated. Have them articulate the rule in their own words. Ask them the reason for why the rule is there. Have the witness describe why the rule is important. If not, you may have a claim for negligent training.

After getting through this line of questioning, you will spring the mousetrap.  Ask the witness if it would be wrong not to follow this rule.  Ask if he expects other truck drivers on the road to follow this rule.  Ask the safety manager if it would be reckless not to follow this rule.

This is a win-win scenario. You are rooting for the safety manager to start disagreeing with these violations of law. The more they disagree,  the more they will end up looking foolish. To the jury that is watching this one day, and realizing that this attitude toward safety and the laws that are put in place to protect people threatens everyone, including themselves, the angrier they become.

Hopefully these pointers for effectively deposing a trucking company’s safety manager will be helpful to attorneys litigating truck accidents.  These litigation tips can help you achieve better results for your clients, and just as important, may help make unsafe companies more safe.

Related information:

8 tips to consider after an accident with a commercial truck

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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