Wheels of Justice
Must all truck fires be reported as accidents?
Question: My company wants to charge me with a reportable accident due to a fire on my truck and make me pay for the damage. It was not my fault, and I could not know it would catch fire.
Here’s what happened. I was driving on 75N in Georgia when I got a bunch of calls on the CB that my truck was smoking, and one guy said he saw fire. I quickly pulled over, saw the smoke and grabbed my fire extinguisher. The smoke was coming from under the hood, so I raised it up and saw a fire on the engine. That is when I shot the fire with the fire extinguisher.
Another driver stopped, and together we put the fire out. The fire burned some wires and the truck would not run so we had to tow it to the shop.
When an accident disables a truck, which requires towing, I know it is reportable, but there was no accident. In addition, am I responsible for the damage to the truck?
Answer: In law school they taught me the IRAC method of determining the outcome of a question or issue. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis and Conclusion. So let us use that process to examine your question. That makes the question: 1) Does the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) require you or your company to report a fire as a reportable accident even if there is no collision, and 2) Are you responsible for the damage the fire caused the vehicle?
The FMCSA made the rules about accidents back in 1962 (27 FR 8551). The rules defined “recordable accidents” as accidents involving property-carrying or passenger-carrying vehicles as: “Any occurrence in the interstate, foreign or intrastate operations of a motor carrier…which results in the death or injury of a person or in property damage…to an extent of $240 or more.” This rule also included “fire or explosion in or on a motor vehicle.”
In my opinion, you had a “reportable accident,” which you or your company must report. If you could have driven the vehicle away then you would not have had a “reportable accident.”
As for the damages, you did not state what it was that caused the fire. Was it poor maintenance, such as leaking oil or fuel onto the engine? Did a mechanical design defect cause the fire?
You also didn’t mention company rules about damage to vehicles you are driving, the amount of the damages or if you could have caused the fire by action or inaction.
In my opinion, this was a reportable accident but I’m unable to advise you on the payment of the damages.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.