With so many regulations and potential legal trapdoors in this industry, it’s not unusual for owner-operators to need sound advice. Many good sources are on the Internet. Not only can you find truckers who have experienced some of the same problems you have, you can also find lawyers, read laws and regulations, and learn the results of court cases similar to yours.
Attorney Paul Taylor of the St. Paul, Minn., area often gives truckers general advice for free through TruckNet’s legal message board. “I don’t get a ton of business, but I do have clients I’ve never met,” Taylor says.
“Of course I recommend consulting an attorney any time you have a legal question,” says Jim C. Klepper, an Interstate Trucker lawyer who helped write Trucker’s Legal Guide, which includes a section on the 50 most frequently asked questions about truckers’ legal rights. Some of those are listed here, along with a few more common questions.
Q: HOW DO I GET OUT OF A LEASE-PURCHASE PROGRAM?
A: Taylor says he gets at least five calls a week from people who are purchasing a truck through an affiliate but want out. He says that in certain instances a driver can get out of his lease-purchase agreement when there is a defect in the lease. An example would be a lease that requires forced dispatch or provides no fair market value purchase option. “This type of lease would indicate an employer-employee relationship as opposed to a principal-contractor relationship.” Taylor says.
Other than that, there’s usually not a lot he can do about it. “Going into a lease-purchase plan is a business decision, and you have to live with it,” he says.
Q: WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF MY INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR NON-BUSINESS PURPOSES?
A: Knowing whether you’re covered if you bobtail to events such as a parade, truck beauty contest or school can be tricky because not all the policies are the same. Clay Porter of Dennis, Corry & Porter in Atlanta says this can be a fuzzy issue. “Motor carriers think their insurance applies only when the truck is working for them, but the window of when the truck is not being used by permission of the carrier is very small in the eyes of the courts,” says Porter. Taylor advises getting extra insurance that clearly covers driving outside of dispatch.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Spells out the regulations and their interpretations.
Includes a Law Forum message board where you can ask legal questions for others to answer.
Mainly for work-related injuries or sickness. Includes a great frequently asked questions section.
Maintains a database of lawyers and expert witnesses.
A general law site that includes an extensive section of articles and frequently asked questions.
Provides an online law library and a database of 35,000 previously asked questions. You can also ask one of 2,000 lawyers or law firms a specific question.
Q: HOW DO I GET THE MONEY THAT’S OWED ME FROM MY COMPANY?
A: A driver often wants to know what he can do about improper chargebacks for insurance or other things. There can be grounds to take legal action for refunds, depending on if the charge is necessary, authorized and documented correctly.
“If it’s just wages that are owed – if somebody’s a slow payer or if it’s not really a dispute over deductions or settlements – I usually can’t help those folks,” Taylor says. “It’s probably best for that person to go to small claims court.”
Q: HOW DO I GET SOMETHING THAT’S WRONG OFF MY DAC REPORT?
A: If you haven’t seen exactly what’s on your file, you should get a copy from DAC Services. It costs $8.50, payable by money order only. To have one mailed to you, call (800) 331-9175 or write to DAC Services, Consumer Dept., P.O. Box 33181, Tulsa, OK 74153.
If you want to challenge something in your record, you can do so in writing, and DAC will ask the carrier to verify the information it provided. The companies typically stand by what they’ve said, but some mistakes can be cleared up. Even if you reach a stalemate, though, any carrier that obtains your file will also receive your version of why the information is wrong.
For further information, call DAC or visit www.dacservices.com .
Q: CAN YOU GET ME OUT OF A SPEEDING TICKET?
A: Klepper, who has been representing truckers on traffic-related matters for 10 years, stresses fighting for your rights. “A ticket is nothing until it becomes a conviction,” he says. “It’s good business sense to defend your reputation, and that includes tickets.”
Q: WHAT CAN I DO TO GET MY JOB BACK?
A: Taylor says he has helped some truckers who were fired for refusing a load that would have forced them to break regulations. “If someone refuses to drive for legitimate safety reasons, such as bald tires or for not driving fast enough, that’s one thing. If they say they were late because they were sleepy, but they just didn’t sleep during their rest time, that’s something else entirely,” Taylor says. A lot depends on circumstances of the dismissal.
Q: IF I HAVE A FAMILY EMERGENCY, CAN I EXCEED MY HOURS OF SERVICE?
A: No. According to the federal rule, an emergency does not include deadheading home for a family emergency, following shippers’ demands, adjusting to market declines, making up for a shortage of drivers or fixing mechanical failures. You can exceed the federal hours of service only when adverse driving conditions extend allowable driving time by two hours; in emergency conditions, which include snow, sleet and fog; and if you operate solely within a 115-mile radius of the normal reporting location. The adverse conditions exception applies only to the 10-hour rule, and the trip has to be one that could have been completed without a violation if the unforeseen weather hadn’t occurred.
Paul O. Taylor
Truckers Justice Center
Dennis, Corry & Porter
Q: AS A LEASED OWNER-OPERATOR, AM I AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR OR AN EMPLOYEE?
A: According to the Internal Revenue Service, independent contractors are generally not employees. However, your status depends on your circumstances. The general IRS rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the person for whom the services are performed controls only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result. Other criteria distinguish contractors from employees: If you have a significant investment in your work, if you are not reimbursed for some or all of your business expenses and if you can realize a profit or incur a loss, you are considered to be an independent contractor in the IRS’s eyes.
Q: CAN SOMEONE ELSE FILL OUT MY LOGS AS LONG AS I SIGN THEM?
A: No. All duty status entries must be legible and in the driver’s handwriting unless the logs are electronic. You can be issued a ticket for failure to record duty status or for making a false report, which is a misdemeanor in some states.
Q: I FAILED THE DRUG TEST, BUT I DON’T USE DRUGS. WHAT CAN I DO?
A: Taylor has had some success with overturning the results of drug tests by questioning procedures. “If the drug test was not performed as an official Department of Transportation drug test, then you can probably cancel the results,” he says. “But there is no legal mechanism to challenge the decision once the procedure has been confirmed by a medical review officer.”