The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Petition for Review of TransAm Trucking Inc. after the United States Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) confirmed an award of an Administrative Law Judge’s decision finding that the trucking company violated the Surface Transportation Administration Act (“STAA”) when it fired a trucker that unhooked his truck from the trailer in order to seek safety from frigid temperatures.
The attorneys for the employer argued that violation of the law only occurs when a trucker refused to operate a vehicle in unsafe conditions. The attorneys for the trucker argued that refusal to operate includes refusing to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner and instead operating the vehicle in a safe manner.
The Tenth Circuit agreed with the expansive interpretation of the STAA argued by the trucker’s attorneys that refusal to operate a vehicle includes refusing to operate the vehicle under dangerous conditions set by the Company. Therefore, refusing to stay on the side of the road in dangerous conditions or dragging a defective trailer is the same as refusing to operate. The Tenth Circuit held that a “refusal to operate” may include actually operating a vehicle in a manner intended to minimize danger of harm or violation of the law.
This decision is important not only to the trucker but also sets a strong precedent supporting the intent of the STAA, which is to protect the safety and welfare of truckers and the general public.
The trucker was stranded on the side of the road for hours due to frozen brake lines in the trailer. The cabin heating system had stopped working while the trucker waited for roadside maintenance. After waiting hours for help, the trucker started to suffer the effects of the extreme cold. The temperature was one of the coldest nights in Illinois history.
Dispatch told the trucker that he had two options. He could drag the load with frozen brakes or stay with the load. Knowing that dragging the load with frozen brakes posed a serious danger to himself and others, he stayed with the load for several hours. He was shivering uncontrollably, lost the feeling in his feet, his skin started cracking and he had trouble speaking and breathing. He believed that no load was worth his life. He disconnected the trailer, leaving the load on the side of the road and sought safety at the nearest gas station. He returned when roadside maintenance finally arrived to repair the frozen brakes. The Company immediately fired him upon his return for abandoning his load.
The trucker hired the attorneys at Miller Cohen P.L.C., a Detroit based labor and employment firm that represents truckers across the Midwest, to bring a wrongful termination claim. After a trial before the Judge, the Judge decided in favor of the Trucker and awarded reinstatement, back pay, damages for emotional distress, and attorney fees and costs.
The STAA protects truckers when engaged in certain activity, including, filing a report of a safety violation or refusing to operate a vehicle due to a safety violation or reasonable apprehension of serious harm to the trucker or the public.
Truckers need to know their rights in regard to performing their job in a manner that is promotes their safety and the safety of the general public. If you think your rights may have been violated, contact a Miller Cohen attorney at our office or visit our website at /Employment-Law/Truck-Driver-Law.shtml.