Preemptive Effect of Federal Statutes and Regulations in Interstate Trucking Cases

Any attorney handling trucking accident personal injury and wrongful death cases must understand how the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution provides that any state law that conflicts with a federal law is "without effect."

Federal law preempts state law where:

(1) Congress expressly preempts state law;
(2) congressional intent to preempt is inferred from the existence of a pervasive regulatory scheme; or
(3) state law conflicts with federal law or interferes with the achievement of federal objectives.

The Supremacy Clause invalidates state laws that "interfere with or are contrary to" federal law. "Federal regulations have no less pre-emptive effect than federal statutes."

In passing the Motor Carrier Act, Congress expressed its clear intent to establish a floor rather than a ceiling – minimum safety standards, 49 U.S.C. § 31136, and minimum financial responsibility requirements, 49 U.S.C. § 31139.

The express purpose of the Federal Regulations is to protect the traveling public by imposing financial responsibility on motor carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations implement the act, providing in 59 C.F.R. § 392.2 that:

  • [e]very commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated. However, if a regulation of the Federal Highway Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance or regulation, the Federal Highway Administration regulation must be complied with.

In addition, 49 C.F.R. 392.14 provides, "if a regulation of a Federal Highway Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance, or regulation, the Federal Highway Administration must be complied with."

Thus, the Regulations are intended to preempt state law in tort actions in which a member of the public is injured by the negligence of a motor carrier's employee while operating an interstate carrier vehicle.

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"My family hired Ken after our parents were killed in a trucking accident in GA in 2013. We worked with Ken for 19 months before our case settled. During this time I thought Ken was outstanding. He was accessible to us at all times and maintained consistent communication. He was patient with us and took time to explain the finer points of law. While we avoided going to trial, he prepared diligently and I felt like he was leaving nothing to chance. I am relieved that our case is complete and I will miss working with Ken. He was very thoughtful and caring while helping us to stay relaxed. I would highly recommend him to anyone who requires these types of services."
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"When tragedy struck our family in the form of the wrongful death of our son and caused me physical injuries and changed our lives forever, we dragged our feet about hiring a lawyer. I didn't want to face having to go through the stress. Big mistake. The first thing you do is hire local counsel. I found Mr. Shigley by surfing the web, and we got a listening ear. He was realistic, professional and worked very hard in our behalf. Not only that, he showed a genuine concern for our family, and ran interference for us on a number of issues relative to our case. If I had it to do over again, I would have hired him sooner." Carolyn R., Newnan, GA
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"After my parents were killed in a tractor truck accident on December 2013, he fought hard against the insurance companies to help my brother, sister, and I. He was honest and always available to answer any questions I had. Ken went out of his way to meet with my brother and I while on vacation in New England. He was awesome in explaining everything to us in detail and looked out for us with every step of the lawsuit. I would highly recommend him." Joan M., Client, Massachusetts
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"I first met Ken when I watched him try a very difficult case involving catastrophic injuries. He was an incredibly effective advocate and was able to obtain justice for his client. I have since come to know him as one of the state's leading trial lawyers, particularly in trucking cases, which involves complex regulatory and legal issues not involved in other types of cases. I do not hesitate to recommend Ken for any kind of personal injury case." John H., Attorney, Atlanta
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"Ken Shigley is an excellent trial lawyer in the area of commercial trucking. He knows the specialized rules for handling truck wreck cases for the victims and their families when tractor-trailers leave a devastating loss, catastrophic injuries and deaths. He is an advocate who understands the impact on his clients and is highly effective in bringing them justice." Myles E., Attorney, Atlanta
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