For many people the law can sometimes be confusing, and many times frustrating, when they see the wheels of justice turning at what seems a glacial pace; occasionally it appears that legal decisions take a step backwards as well. Some of the more difficult legal decisions are made on issues so divisive that there seems to be no middle ground, yet the law can provide remedies for everyone from time to time.
Slow or not, the results of court cases don’t always please all parties. As Maryland personal injury lawyers representing victims of automobile, trucking and motorcycle accidents, every month we ourselves read about cases that make us scratch our heads. The good news is that the appeals process is available in nearly all instances when a party feels that their point of view was fully understood or valued as much as they may have hoped.
A situation has been brewing down south that on the face of it seems to pit public safety against the individual rights of an employee to keep and perform his job without prejudice from his employer. Frankly, this is a tough legal issue the outcome of which will likely rile more than a few individuals once a decision is reached.
The case in question involves a commercial trucker who self-reported that he had an alcohol abuse problem. According to news articles, following that announcement the driver’s employer took the man off the fleet’s list of permanent drivers. As this obviously directly affected the man’s ability to earn a living, a suit was filed on the man’s behalf by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against his employer citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to news reports, the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, sought to get back the man’s original driving position, plus some monetary damages. Part of the plaintiff’s argument was based on the ADA’s protections of a worker’s rights, which mandate that persons with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to achieve within the workplace.
Understanding that commercial trucking accidents can result in very serious injuries and even fatalities, it’s reasonable to assume that a trucking company would have qualms about a driver who voluntarily came forward with statements about his or her problems with alcohol. For this reason alone, it would seem, there would be concerns about safety, as well as future liability if the driver in question was involved in a traffic accident while on the job.
According to reports, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the employer’s policy and practice of never allowing a driver with self-reported alcohol problems to have a driving position is a violation of federal law. The EEOC’s position on in this matter is reportedly that a trucking company may have legitimate concerns regarding highway safety, however an employer can both ensure safety and comply with the ADA, according to an EEOC representative.
This case puts the Court in a curious dilemma. If it were to rule in favor of the trucking company, effectively removing the man from his position as a driver for safety reasons, there is the fear that by forcing the company to follow the law it could put not only that firm in potential financial risk if an accident does happen in the future, it could also have an affect on the jobs and lives of hundreds of innocent people.
Furthermore, if the court rules in favor of the company, that action could have deep-seated effects throughout the trucking industry, by essentially telling other drivers with a drinking problem that they should just stay quiet and not self-report a possible substance-abuse problem. By doing so, this could cause drivers with drug- and alcohol-abuse issues to remain silent and continue driving while all the while putting other lives at risk.
Of course, the Court could always issue a narrow decision that addresses only this specific case. If the Court wishes, it could use this case to make a broad statement by issuing a wide-reaching decision. Whatever the final decision, it is obvious that commercial truckers are not like many workers whose failure on the job may not result in the loss of many innocent lives. As a public safety issue, the outcome of this case is bound to make waves on all shores.
Safety vs. the law, Fleetowner.com, November 1, 2011