In a recent case, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court order excluding evidence of violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to show the standard of care to prove negligence.
In Jones v. Wiseman (2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 40040, 6th Cir. December 22, 2020), the Court stated:
But still introduction of the FMCSRs may have entailed a substantial danger of leaving the jury confused about whether the standard was ordinary care or something else given federal regulation of CMV operators. . . . So we find it impossible to fault the district judge for concluding that the regulations would “be more confusing to the jury than helpful to them.” (Id. at 20-21.)
The court recognized the potential relevance of the alleged violations but determined the prejudice of allowing the evidence outweighed any relevance because the evidence could confuse the jury regarding the relevant standard of care. The standard was due care under the circumstances, and not negligence per se for violation of a federal regulation. The court concluded: “Simply stated, the regulations do not tell us whether [the commercial driver] did anything wrong at all.” (Id. at 20.)
The court relied in part on Tennessee state law statutory standard, due care under the circumstances, and stated the following:
The regulations support the common-sense conclusion that CMV drivers may need skills and knowledge that differ from those required for driving other vehicles. . . . But the regulations identified do not tell us what a specific driver like Wiseman should have done under the circumstances of this case. Indeed, the regulations cited by Wiseman themselves provide that the “substance of the knowledge and skills that drivers must have as outlined” in the FMCSRs is found in state manuals rather than the regulations themselves. . . . So we are simply left with regulations that provide general indicia that CMV drivers should know how to operate their vehicles safely and have the skills requisite to do so. (Id. at 18-19).
The argument to exclude any FMCSR violations should hold in other states with a similar standard of care, like Kentucky, which is ordinary care under the circumstances.
Importantly, the alleged violations in this case were general, and not necessarily specifically related to the cause of the accident. A court might put more weight on relevance, with a more direct link between the violation and the cause of the accident.
Be sure to remember this case when arguing the standard of care for truck drivers is ordinary care under the circumstances and not a heightened duty of care because a commercial vehicle is involved.