The following is an article Jennifer Wood had published in the American Bar Association’s Summer Newsletter. For the link click here:http://www.robertsperryman.com/article/2644/Jenn-Wood-Published-in-ABA-Summer-Newsletter.aspx?articlegroup=1188
TRUCK DRIVERS: AN ATTORNEY’S PRIMER
By: Jennifer A. Wood, Roberts Perryman, P C.
How you interact with the truck drivers you represent can make a significant impact on your client’s satisfaction, and even the ultimate resolution of the case. Unfortunately, many attorneys do not understand what it is like to be a truck driver, and therefore inadvertently make client handling mistakes. This article is designed to give such attorneys a bit more insight into what their truck driver clients may be thinking and experiencing.
We must note that the following will be full of stereotypes. Of course, every driver is an individual. However, many drivers you encounter will have at least some of the following characteristics.
Over the road drivers (those that sleep in their truck and are away from home for days/weeks at a time) are not used to having someone look over their shoulder and question their every move. They tend to love the freedom of the road and feeling like they are their own boss (even if they are not). If their actions are questioned they can quickly get defensive. This is complicated by the fact that they are used to having to defend themselves, so becoming defensive or responding aggressively may be their customary reaction. They may feel like their dispatcher often sets them up for failure, or that their company intentionally short pays them. Their family may be frustrated at how little they are home. Non professional drivers on the road (the “four wheelers”) virtually all assume that truck drivers are incompetent and uncivilized. Truck drivers are used to fighting with everyone, and you certainly don’t want them to be fighting with you. So, the first tip is to avoid putting them on the defensive.
Second, it is vital to understand that life can be very complicated when you live in a truck. Truck drivers cannot simply print, sign, scan, and email that affidavit back to you. (Although some do have more technological resources available in their trucks than others.) They cannot pop into your office for a chat about the case. They may not even be able to answer their phone during your working hours. With the new FMCSA regulations , many drivers are trying to spend more daytime hours driving so they can take their breaks overnight and better manage their weekly restart. At the same time, many companies have policies that prohibit talking on cell phones while driving, and many states have laws against cell phone use. Asking a driver to pull over so you can talk about the case would be like asking you to play solitaire for a while instead of working on your files. Most drivers are paid by the mile, and similar to attorneys who bill for their services, if they aren’t putting miles on their truck they are not getting paid. Worse, while attorneys have 24 hours of every day with which they can potentially work, drivers only have 14 hours. Ifa driver has to stop in the middle of his or her 14 hour work shift to talk to you, that means fewer miles and less money. Not to mention the simple fact that they may not be able to find somewhere safe and legal to park. Thus, the second tip is to be cognizant of their day-to-day working environment, and plan your requests accordingly.
Like many of us, truck drivers just want people to respect what they do for a living. Anything you say ot do to make your truck driver client feel like you are demeaning him or her, or putting down their chosen profession could be disastrous. Attorneys may think we sometimes have a bad reputation among the general public, but compare that to the reputation of truck driver. People make fun of them for their intelligence, their cleanliness, their demeanor, their choice of profession, and most of all, their ability to do their job. How many “four wheeler” drivers do you know that blame every accident on a big truck, or assume that every truck driver is a danger to society? Show your client that you respect what he or she does for a living, that you recognize how incredibly difficult and taxing their job really is, and they are much more likely to be open and cooperative with you. Therefore, the third tip is to show respect to truck drivers for what they do.
Finally, dealing with an accident and related lawsuit can be terrifying for a professional driver. Lawsuits are stressful fro everyone, but not everyone is at risk of losing their livelihood as a result. Drivers without a valid driver’s license are unemployable. Drivers with a serious loss history are unemployable. Many drivers do not have a “plan B” career choice, as the only thing they have ever done or wanted to do is be on the road. In addition, depending on the specifics of the accident, drivers could face criminal charges and possible jail time. So your client may be terrified by the entire notion of the lawsuit, yet may be unable or unwilling to express this fear. Remember that many drivers spend long periods of time by themselves, and may not have the best communication skills as a result. Often, the underlying fear coupled with potential communication problems can result in a driver who is angry, gruff, and likely to speak with an excess of emotion at exactly the wrong time. Thus, the final tip is to always be aware of this dynamic, and be prepared to counsel your client accordingly before a deposition or trial.
Truck drivers are some of the most hard working individuals you will ever encounter. They are the backbone of our country’s economy and yet receive little recognition for the work that they do. They can be fiercely independent, but also fiercely loyal. The more you understand and respect them, the more they will respect you and whatever you ask of them.
Jennifer A. Wood is an associate at Roberts Perryman, P C. Her practice focuses on trucking litigation and insurance defense. Jennifer has been married to a tri1ck driver since 2001, and credits the many stories of his on-the-road experiences for her interest in transportation law.