We recently addressed a wrongful death lawsuit brought in federal court that invokes Nebraska’s fetal death statute, and how that law differs from corresponding statutes in Indiana. The lawsuit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, also asserts a cause of action for alleged violations of federal commercial truck driving regulations, including restrictions on the number of hours a driver may be behind the wheel without a break. Indiana law has allowed for evidence of regulatory violations in order to prove a claim of negligence, although such evidence may not be sufficient to establish liability by itself.
The Nebraska lawsuit arises from a September 9, 2012 accident on westbound Interstate 80 in western Nebraska. A family traveling through the state in two separate cars was stopped at the rear of a line of traffic, which had backed up nearly a mile because of an accident involving two semi-trailers. Another semi-trailer collided with the back of one of the family’s vehicles. This propelled the car into the family’s other car, which collided with another vehicle. All occupants of the two vehicles died in the accident. The truck driver, Josef Slezak, was allegedly driving at seventy-five miles per hour, and did not slow or stop prior to the collision.
The family’s legal representatives filed suit against Slezak and his employer, alleging negligence per se and violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. The two regulations cited in the complaint prohibit operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired, such as by fatigue, and regulate the length of time a vehicle operator may drive without rest. The hours-of-service (HOS) regulations prescribe maximum lengths of time a driver can be on-duty or behind the wheel before a required period of time off duty. According to the complaint, Slezak had arrived at a trucking terminal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 10:49 a.m. on September 8, and left after less than three hours off duty at 1:49 p.m. The accident occurred more than eighteen hours later, at around 5:19 a.m., and about 920 miles away.