CDL manual not proof of higher standard for truckers, federal court rules
October 15, 2021
An Ohio federal court ruling finds that the state’s CDL manual does not indicate that truckers should hold a higher standard of care in crash lawsuits.
In a recent opinion filed by Senior U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko of the Northern District of Ohio, the federal court denied Quebec, Canada-based Intermark Transport’s bid to have the case dismissed. However, the opinion agrees with the trucking company’s assessment that citing Ohio’s CDL manual does not show that truck drivers hold a higher standard of care when it comes to driving and road safety.
According to a news release from the law firm Roetzel, attorneys representing plaintiffs in crash lawsuits against trucking companies often argue that truckers should be held to a higher standard of care.
Roetzel pointed out that those attorneys will direct a courtroom to language in the CDL manual to drive that point home. With Judge Boyko’s recent ruling, that strategy may no longer hold.
In order to show negligence on the part of the Intermark Transport driver, the estate of Matthew Krendl, who was killed after a truck-involved crash, had an expert testify that the trucker did not comply with certain sections of the CDL manual. Responding to Intermark’s motion for summary judgment, Boyko dismissed that argument.
Krendl’s estate stated that the manual tells truckers to have a plan, take evasive measures when confronted with a hazard, and use the right shoulder if necessary to avoid a collision. However, Boyko found that CDL manuals are neither mandatory nor legally enforceable. Therefore, it “provides no standards against which jurors could measure a defendant’s actions.”
“Moreover, Ohio has yet to impose a heightened standard of care upon commercial truck drivers,” Boyko stated. “To do so would illogically ‘place some portion of the responsibility for every accident on a commercial driver, simply because he or she has been instructed to be a defensive driver.’”
Drunk driver allegedly stopped on interstate
At around 9:30 p.m. in August 2017, Krendl was driving his girlfriend’s red 2001 Toyota 4Runner when he allegedly stopped in the right-hand travel lane of Interstate 71 in Ohio. According to court documents, the lights on the vehicle were not on.
Bogdan Adrian Petrisor was driving a truck owned by Intermark when he struck the 4Runner. Petrisor claimed he never saw the vehicle until it was too late as it was dark and the 4Runner had no lights on. Another motorist who intended to pass Petrisor also said he never saw a vehicle or taillights in the right travel lane.
During its investigation, the Ohio State Highway Patrol discovered that Krendl had a suspended license due to repeated DUI offenses. Officers also confirmed that Krendl was stopped in the right lane with no lights on. Furthermore, toxicology reports revealed that Krendl’s blood alcohol concentration was more than three times the legal limit. Petrisor was not cited for any traffic violation.
From CDL manual to high beams and speeds
Despite that finding, Boyko denied Intermark’s motion to dismiss. The court also found that a factual dispute exists with the Krendl estate’s other argument using Ohio’s Assured Clear Distance statute. Motorists are in violation of that statute if they are in a crash with an object that was:
- Ahead of them in their path of travel.
- Stationary or moving in the same direction as the driver.
- Reasonably visible.
- Did not suddenly appear in the driver’s path.
Regarding the “reasonably visible” prong of the Assured Clear Distance statute, the Krendl estate argued that if the trucker had his high beams on, he would have more quickly noticed Krendl and avoided the crash.
Neither party disputed that Krendl had a suspended license due to DUIs. Nor did they dispute that his blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. However, there is a dispute over whether Krendl was stopped with no lights on in the right travel lane on I-71. All of those factors support a finding of negligence on the part of Krendl, not the trucker.
The court pointed out that Petrisor was driving 65 mph on a night that a trooper described as pitch black. Also, the trucker was using his low beams that had visibility of 25 feet. Furthermore, Petrisor could not stop in any less than 200 feet while hauling 39,000 pounds at that speed.
Boyko ruled that the Krendl estate “has identified genuine facts in dispute as to ‘reasonable discernibility,’ a necessary element for determining assured clear distance liability, proximate causation and comparative negligence.”
Accordingly, Intermark’s motion to dismiss was denied. Krendl’s lawsuit will continue, with a jury tasked to answer the question of reasonable visibility if it goes to trial. LL