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Trucking Companies Exposed To New Liability Risk After FMCSA Preemption

| January 10, 2019

Motor carriers who do not follow California’s meal and rest break laws risk pending or future civil lawsuits.

Those new risks were triggered by a petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in late December by the Teamsters union. The Teamsters want the court to reverse the federal agency’s ruling, claiming that it harms union-represented drivers who work for companies that have been providing paid meal periods and rest breaks under California law.

Federal hours of service (HOS) regulations require drivers take a 30-minute rest break after eight hours, and prohibit drivers from operating a truck if a driver feels too tired to drive safely. California’s meal and rest break laws require drivers be given a 30-minute meal break every five hours and an additional 10-minute rest break every four hours.

The FMCSA ruled in favor of petitions filed last year by the American Trucking Associations(ATA) and others, asserting that having a uniform rule addressing rest breaks increases safety.

However, “the suggestion that California’s meal and rest break rules negatively impact highway safety is ludicrous,” the Teamsters countered in response to the decision.

ATA pointed out that while California’s regulations have already produced a number of class action lawsuits by truckers claiming their company has not allowed them to take their 30-minute break after five hours, “it is our belief those suits are now moot” because of the FMCSA’s ruling.

“The idea that providing a 10-minute rest break after four hours and a 30-minute meal break after five hours somehow makes the roads less safe is beyond comprehension. This is simply a giveaway to the trucking industry at the expense of driver safety.

The Teamsters’ challenge to federal preemption now places carriers in the position of risking increased liability in civil lawsuits, contends Prasad Sharma, a partner with the Washington, DC-based law firm Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, which specializes in transportation issues.

“FMCSA’s preemption determination is certainly a welcome development and achieves a result the industry has long sought. However, carriers should understand that, until the challenge to the FMCSA determination is resolved, there is some risk for carriers that elect to stop complying with California’s meal and rest break laws.

Category: General Update, News

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