South Carolina BAR Journal
SC Lawyer, July 2012, #1.
Commercial Vehicle Cases
South Carolina LawyerJuly 2012Commercial Vehicle CasesThe Interplay Between South Carolina Law and Federal RegulationsBy Michael GoldbergThe U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that there are more than 500,000 vehicular accidents involving commercial vehicles each year. Almost 5,000 people die in these commercial vehicle accidents. Most personal injury lawyers will handle a commercial vehicle case at some point in their career. Numerous state and federal regulations govern commercial vehicle operations. The main mistake practitioners make in handling these cases is treating them as though they were "big automobile accidents." Practitioners need to know the laws governing commercial vehicles in order to fully comprehend the scope of these cases and to handle them properly.
It is impossible to understand the law governing commercial motor vehicles without knowing the relationship between interstate motor carriers and intrastate motor carriers. Interstate commerce is commerce between any place in a state and any place in another state. S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 103-102(13) (1976). Intrastate commerce is (1) commerce between points and over a route or within a territory wholly within one state, (2) commerce that is not a part of a prior or subsequent movement to or from points outside of the state in interstate or foreign commerce, and (3) commerce that includes all transportation within the state for compensation that has been exempted by Congress from federal regulation in interstate or foreign commerce. S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 103-102(14) (1976). Federal regulations govern transportation by commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce, while state law governs shipments that are completely intrastate and do not affect interstate commerce. Texas v. United States, 866 F.2d 1546, 1569 (5th Cir. 1989).
Definition of a commercial ve.
Under federal regulations, a commercial vehicle is defined as any vehicle, including any trailer towed by the vehicle, with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) that exceeds 10,000 pounds. 49 C.F.R. 390.5 (2012). While most people traditionally envision a commercial vehicle as a tractor-trailer, a commercial vehicle can also include a heavy pickup truck, a utility work truck, a heavy van or other vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. If a vehicle, including any trailer towed by the vehicle, has a GVWR of greater than 26,000 pounds, the vehicle can only be driven by a person with a commercial driver's license (CDL) and is subject to additional rules and regulations for driver qualifications. 49 C.F.R. 383.5 (2012) 383.23 (2011). South Carolina law defines a commercial vehicle as any vehicle, machine, tractor, semi-trailer or any combination thereof that is propelled or drawn by mechanical power and used upon the highways to transport property for hire. S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 103-102(18) (1976).
Under the federal regulations, truck drivers working for interstate motor carriers must meet minimum requirements for driver qualifications. 49 C.F.R. 391.1 (2012). In order to be qualified to drive a commercial vehicle, a driver must (1) be at least 21 years old, (2) be able to read and speak the English language...