Dangerous NC truck company ordered to pay $1 million after wrongfully terminating 4 truckers who cooperated with FMCSA investigating hours of service violations
The truckers successfully made a claim pursuant to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, forcing the Gaines Motor Lines Inc. to pay for its bullying
I have probably spoken at about 100 legal seminars teaching lawyers about how to litigate truck accident cases. And one point that I make nearly every time I speak is that these cases are about the company, not the driver. In many (if not most) cases, it is the company setting the driver up to fail, or pushing the driver to break the law. I like most of the truckers I’ve personally met. In fact, I’ve represented quite a few of them who are also injured in truck accidents.
And every once in a while, I come across a story that’s encouraging and makes me believe there’s hope that truck drivers will be treated better – and that the companies and safety directors that push these men and women to break the law will be held accountable. I came across such a story earlier today.
A North Carolina trucking company called Gaines Motor Lines Inc., was hit with a heavy penalty pursuant to the provisions under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. The Act is a piece of legislation which expressly prohibits the “discharge an employee, or discipline or discriminate against an employee regarding pay, terms, or privileges of employment,” where the said employee reports, or assists in an investigation, of violations of commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulations or standards. 49 U.S.C. § 31105.
At its bare basic level, the statute provides whistle blower protection for the good truckers and trucking company employees who want to report violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) or who otherwise want to do their part in preventing serious truck and bus accidents.
During an on-site audit of Gaines Motor Lines, investigators from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) interviewed four truck drivers regarding hours-of-service violations. The four truckers did the right thing — they put safety ahead of profit and cooperated with the FMCSA. After the investigation ceased, Gaines Motor Lines fired all four truck drivers because they cooperated with safety regulators.
But the truck drivers got the last laugh.
The four truckers invoked the protection of the Surface Transportation Act. They made claims for their lost wages, interest, compensatory damages and punitive damages. The truck drivers were awarded everything they requested.
Gaines Motor Lines was ordered to pay $1.07 million to the four men.
As an attorney who sees the inside of these cases, I just love this story. When bad trucking companies cut corners on safety, people get hurt. I’m so happy that these four good truckers had the courage to stand up against their employer, and to do the right thing. The Surface Transportation Act worked as it was intended.
Hopefully, this story will cause some trucking companies to treat their truckers better.