A law firm is a business entity formed by one or more lawyers to engage in the practice of law. The primary service rendered by a law firm is to advise clients (individuals or corporations) about their legal rights and responsibilities, and to represent clients in civil or criminal cases, business transactions, and other matters in which legal advice and other assistance are sought.
Transportation law is the body of law that governs transportation infrastructure and its use. It regulates the way that people travel using any method of transportation including railways, air travel, vehicular travel and even waterways. Much of transportation law comes from the government agencies that make regulations and oversee compliance with the regulations that they create. Transportation law also involves companies and individuals that must understand and follow the regulations. Most transportation law in the United States is federal. Because transportation impacts interstate commerce, the federal government can regulate transportation under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Federal transportation law regulates a number of things including any of the following:
• Requirements for building vessels for transportation including airplanes, trains, planes and motor vehicles
• Rules to decide who gets to use limited resources like airspace and train tracks
• How private corporations and individuals may own public transportation networks and under what conditions
• Prohibitions of discrimination in public transportation
• Oversight for inspections of companies involved in transportation
• Licensing of pilots, train conductors and maritime captains and helmsmen
• Penalties for violations of transportation laws
The federal government can also use the promise of government funding in order to compel the states to enact certain transportation laws. In one famous example, the federal government threatened to withhold funding from states that refused to pass laws lowering their drunk driving per se limit to .08 grams per 210 liters of breath. In 1984, federal highway funding also pressured the states to raise the drinking age to 21.
Federal Transportation Agencies
A lot of federal transportation law comes from Chapter 49 of the United States Code. Chapter 49 establishes several federal agencies that create transportation regulations and oversee transportation in the United States at a federal level.
These organizations include:
U.S. Department of Transportation
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) lists its purpose as making transportation safe and convenient for everyone. Founded in 1967, USDOT creates regulations, brings enforcement actions and makes recommendations to the states. USDOT also makes public service announcements and gives warnings and recommendations to the public.
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees all aspects of air travel. Their oversight includes airplanes, airports and the logistics of air travel. Their rules and restrictions might be permanent or temporary.
Federal Highway Administration
The Federal Highway Administration ensures safe construction of maintenance of roads, tunnels and bridges in the United States. They focus on safety as well as design that’s easy and convenient for users. Their work includes planning for funding as well as innovation in road construction and design.
Federal Railroad Administration
The Federal Railroad Administration has provided oversight for rail travel in the United States since 1966. The agency includes an Office of Civil Rights, Chief Counsel and Administration. Part of the agency focuses on policy and research.
The Maritime Administration (MARAD) provides recommendations about commercial maritime travel in the United States. The agency handles international communication and negotiation regarding maritime travel. The organization also supports the Department of Defense.
National Transportation Safety Board
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates transportation accidents. The NTSB is an independent agency. The purpose of the independence of the agency is to allow them to conduct unbiased and neutral investigations into the causes of transportation accidents.
State Transportation Law
Most states have a Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s where most people interact with transportation law. A state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is usually a part of a state’s executive branch. States also make laws that regulate traffic and travel on highways. States require drivers to have a license to drive a vehicle for private use. Most states have a different license for commercial driving and another license for operating a motorcycle. Most states also have laws that prohibit boating while intoxicated. Penalties for a violation of state traffic law might range from a civil fine to points on a driver’s license to criminal penalties.
One emerging area of transportation law is regulations that address the use of drones. Also called unmanned aircraft, drone operators and various units of government are still working on how to regulate drone use in order to promote safety and fair operation of drones. With the use of drones, concerns about privacy have developed. There are questions about when drone operators should need a license, whether they need a license under existing law and how they should be permitted to operate their aircraft. Regulators continue to debate rules regarding restricted airspace as well as privacy issues when drone operators want to operate above private property. Transportation lawyers are part of the rule-making process, and they also help clients comply with existing laws.
Non-compliance with transportation law
Failing to comply with transportation law may be a civil or criminal offense. In some cases, the offender pays a fine. In other cases, they might face criminal charges.
Contesting criminal or civil penalties
Along with civil penalties and criminal charges comes the opportunity to contest those penalties. Companies and individuals who are the subject of allegations of failing to follow federal or state transportation law have the right to notice and the opportunity to be heard about the allegation. Transportation lawyers represent their clients at these hearings. A hearing might be in front of an administrative agency law judge such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Hearings, or it might be in a criminal courtroom. Even administrative hearings are formal affairs. When a company has an administrative hearing, their future may be on the line as well as their reputation. Transportation lawyers help their clients carefully prepare for these hearings. If the case is in a federal criminal court, there are other important rules to know and follow.
Becoming a Transportation Lawyer
As a transportation lawyer, you might work for the government. You might create regulations. You might work on enforcement. Even administrative law judges have an important role to play in the enforcement of transportation law. Transportation lawyers also work in the private sector. Transportation companies might range from small businesses who operate a ferry service with a few vessels to large-scale operations for large corporations that move people and products on a national scale. They have the important work to do making sure their businesses know and comply with the requirements that apply to them. A lawyer might specialize in transportation law, or they might handle it as part of a broader practice. On a micro level, a criminal lawyer might infrequently touch transportation law as they help their clients with administrative hearings regarding the suspension of a client’s driver’s license. A lawyer who practices transportation law as part of a diversified practice might help a client manage transportation compliance as part of handling their general business operations. A transportation lawyer provides counsel and strategic planning in all segments of the transportation industry. Representative industry clients may include motor carriers; the passenger, air, water and rail transportation segments of the transportation and logistics industries; and third-party logistics providers. More specifically, potential clients include private fleets, commercial vessels, airlines (both passenger and commercial), couriers, package, truckload, less-than-truckload, liquid and dry bulk carriers, public transit authorities and the barge and shipping industries. In addition to the direct suppliers, potential transportation clients include the users of such services; i.e., industry insurers, transportation brokers, freight forwarders and the like. Transportation law firm must be prepared to provide solutions and legal advice in many areas including:
• cargo claims
• civil litigation
• compliance issues with existing federal and state laws
• emergency response and crisis management
• environmental law
• general corporate matters
• independent contractor issues
• insurance coverage
• labor and employment law
• liability defense
• mergers, acquisitions and corporate structuring
• monitoring of proposed and pending legislation
• personal injury and property damage claims
• real estate transactions
• risk management
• transportation and logistics contracts
• workers’ compensation
Regardless of a transportation company’s vigilance, there is always the potential for a crisis situation in the industry. Transportation law attorneys must be prepared to provide emergency response and crisis management services for their clients, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether the circumstance involves a significant accident, fire, explosion or chemical release, the first hours after such an event are critical from a liability management standpoint. Transportation Lawyer work with their clients at every step to address the issues that may arise as a result of industrial accidents, personal injuries or other catastrophes. An experienced transportation lawyer will be able to provide representation at both the state and federal court levels and is experienced in all of the issues related to the challenges of delivering, transporting and receiving commercial goods in intrastate, interstate and foreign commerce.
Insurance Filing Requirements
In addition to filing an application for operating authority, all applicants for motor carrier, freight forwarder, and broker authorities must have specific insurance and legal process agent documents on file before the FMCSA will issue the authorities. The required filings vary, based on the types of registrations involved. Please note that first-time applicants with FMCSA must apply using the Unified Registration System (URS). Existing registration- or authority-holders may apply for authorities using the OP-series forms until a later date. On January 17, 2017, FMCSA published a Federal Register notice with more details on the suspension of the URS effectiveness date. Liability and cargo insurance forms must be submitted directly (online) by the home office of the insurance company furnishing the coverage. The FMCSA does not furnish copies of insurance forms.
How to File
Applicants should be prepared to contact their agents to request filing of the required forms immediately after obtaining their designated docket number. These filings must be received within 90 days after the FMCSA has published public notice of intention to register the applicant. (Applicants will be notified by letter of their docket number and date of publication in the FMCSA Register.) Applicants are cautioned to ensure that the name and address of the business as set out in all pre-registration filings match exactly the name and address provided in their application for operating authority filings. Any deviation will result in rejection of the supplemental pre-registration filings.
Where to File
• Insurance Companies
• Financial Institutions
How to be DOT compliant?
DOT compliance refers to successfully meeting the requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the federal agency that enforces rules (DOT regulations) governing the operation of commercial motor vehicles. Failure to be DOT compliant results in a violation of these rules. Violators are subject to sanctions that can include financial penalties (fines), suspension of a company’s permission to operate its commercial vehicle fleet, or jail time.
Who Must Comply
Department of Transportation rules apply to vehicles that are required to register with the DOT and receive a USDOT number. These can be generally described as commercial vehicles but more specifically the DOT guidelines concern motor vehicles operating under one or more of these criteria:
• Transport of hazardous materials, of type and quantity specified by DOT
• A gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more
• Transport of more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation
• Transport of more than 15 passengers, including the driver
These qualifications apply to vehicles used in interstate commerce. Some states require their intrastate commercial motor vehicle registrants to obtain a USDOT number.
Compliance Procedure: Know The Rules
To ensure that commercial drivers and carriers remain in compliance with DOT rules, the place to start is with the regulations themselves. Learning the ins and outs of the DOT rulebook can be facilitated by consulting the FAQ section of the FMCSA website. This page provides a convenient list of frequently asked questions allowing the user to search under topics including regulations, driver safety, registration, licensing and more. After becoming familiar with the regulations, commercial carriers can stay on track and avoid lapses by regularly reviewing their operations. The following provides useful guidelines to ensure adherence to DOT standards, for drivers and fleet managers.
• Maintain a copy of the current FMCSA rules in the office.
• Complete pre-trip and post-trip inspections of vehicles, with documentation.
• Develop a vehicle maintenance program and adhere to it, with documentation.
• Ensure that each vehicle is marked with its DOT registration number.
• Maintain a record of any road incidents for each vehicle.
• Provide each driver with a copy of FMCSA rules, and obtain a signed receipt for the document and agreement to follow the regulations described in it.
• Maintain qualification records and safety history for each driver.
• Maintain a record of HOS (hours of service) for each driver.
• Maintain records of pre-employment drug testing for each driver. This should also include reports of drug and alcohol abuse in previous employment if any.
• Conduct random drug and alcohol testing of drivers on a regular basis, as described in DOT regulations.
• Require supervisors to receive drug and alcohol training as required by DOT regulations.
Can I Sue If I’m Injured While Using Public Transportation?
If your case meets the legal standards, you may qualify to bring a suit and receive compensation. However, because government entities own and operate public transportation, the rules that apply to public transportation lawsuits are different than they are for other types of civil suits. If your case falls within the laws that apply to lawsuits against government entities, you can sue if you’re injured while using public transportation. The first step to suing if you’re injured while using public transportation is determining what party is responsible for your injuries. In most cases, the government entity is liable for your injuries. Even if another transit patron is involved in the accident, there may be failings on the part of the public transportation company that ultimately makes them responsible for what occurred. If you name a private party in your lawsuit, there are no special rules or laws that apply to the claim against them. In that case, the general negligence rules apply. However, if you name the public transportation unit as the defendant in your claim, there are some special steps to follow for claiming compensation.
Legal Standards for Public Transportation Lawsuits
The standards for legal liability in a case against a public transportation entity are similar in many ways to lawsuits against non-government parties. You must show that your injuries result from the negligent actions of the government agency. If the accident occurs because of the negligence of an employee, that’s usually enough for the government agency to be liable. The general rules are that you can recover for the same types of damages that you may be able to claim in a negligence case against a private entity. There are some key differences to be aware of between lawsuits that involve public transportation and lawsuits that involve private parties. First, when you sue a public transportation company, you must give notice of the claim. Providing notice of the claim means telling the government entity that you plan to file the lawsuit before you formally submit the paperwork. The notice gives the government entity the time to consider the claim and work to resolve it efficiently without needing formal litigation.
When you need a transportation attorney on your side, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506