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Who is Liable for a Truck Accident in Dallas?

Victims of truck wrecks have legal recourse

As the largest city in the DFW metroplex and a major transportation hub, Dallas sees its share of truck traffic, and thus truck accidents. Crashes occur on I-20, I-30, I-35E, I-45, and other major highways, and victims’ lives can be changed forever. Because of the sheer size of tractor-trailers, severe injuries are common: brain injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs, and more. Unfortunately, too many families are left to mourn a loss after fatal truck accidents.

That’s why victims and their families need accountability. Knowing who is responsible for a truck accident requires in-depth investigation and legal knowledge. These are situations where the right truck accident attorney can make a meaningful difference.

Is the trucking company liable for a truck accident?

There are several ways to hold a trucking company liable for an accident. One legal standard that often comes into play is called respondeat superior, which literally means “the master must answer.” Essentially, this doctrine means an employer is legally responsible for the negligent or wrongful actions by employees in the course and scope of their employment. Thus, if the truck driver is an employee of the trucking company, and the trucker’s negligence caused the accident, the trucking company is liable. However, if the truck driver is an independent contractor, respondeat superior may not apply, depending on the nature of the employment relationship.

There are several other ways a trucking company can be held responsible for an accident, including:

  • Poor truck maintenance. Federal regulations require trucking companies to keep their vehicles in roadworthy condition. That means regular inspections – pre-trip and post-trip inspections by the driver, as well as full annual inspections – preventative maintenance, and immediate repairs to any mechanical issues that can pose a safety hazard. For example, if the accident was caused by a tire blowout, broken lights, failed brakes, or other mechanical issues, the trucking company may be responsible.
  • Hours of Service (HOS) violations. To prevent truck drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, the federal government has established Hours of Service regulations that limit the number of hours truckers can drive and require mandatory breaks. Trucking companies are required to enforce these rules and install electronic logbooks in vehicles to track compliance. However, some trucking companies fail to enforce these rules or even pressure their drivers to violate the regulations.
  • Negligent hiring and supervision. Trucking companies are legally responsible for ensuring that their drivers are safe, responsible operators. That means conducting thorough background checks during the hiring process and responding appropriately if a driver shows warning signs of unsafe behavior. However, some trucking companies fail to conduct background checks and hire drivers with a history of drug abuse or other dangerous behavior.

Other action or inaction on the part of the trucking company can also contribute to an accident. That’s why a thorough investigation is needed to determine what happened and why.

Other parties may also be responsible in some circumstances

Some truck accidents involve liability on the part of the manufacturer. For instance, underride accidents, which are serious collisions in which a smaller vehicle slides underneath the trailer, are often a result of manufacturing defects in the trailer itself. Modern trucks are equipped with underride guards, but those guards sometimes fail, especially when hit from an angle. Depending on the circumstances, this may mean the manufacturer is liable for a defect in the guard, or the trucking company is liable for failing to maintain the guard.

In other circumstances, the company that owns the cargo or the company that loaded the truck can be responsible for an accident. As with any other accident, there could also be liability on the part of another vehicle involved in the crash, a company responsible for maintaining the road surface, or other negligent parties.

In truck accidents, multiple parties are often partially liable

In scenarios where more than one party is liable, Texas uses the principle of comparative negligence, which means each party is responsible for a percentage of the damages proportional to their percentage of fault. For instance, if the trucking company is 80% responsible and the manufacturer is 20% responsible, they would be responsible for 80% and 20% of the damages, respectively.

If the injured person is partially responsible for the accident, Texas’ “modified” comparative negligence rule comes into play. In Texas, you can still recover if you are partially at fault, as long as you are not more than 50% at fault. Your damages will simply be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you are awarded $100,000 in damages but found 30% at fault, your award would be reduced by 30% for a final recovery of $70,000. However, if you are 60% at fault, you would recover nothing.

Legal representation is important to navigate complex situations

All this complexity is one reason why you need to get an experienced attorney involved as soon as possible. In truck accidents, multiple insurance companies are usually involved: the trailer and the cab usually have separate insurance, not to mention the insurance company for the truck manufacturer, your own car insurance, and any other vehicles involved. Accepting a settlement from one insurance company can affect the other companies’ liability. An attorney can investigate all the available coverage, determine what each insurer is responsible for, and coordinate coverage to put more money in the victim’s pocket.

Another reason to get an attorney involved right away is time. In Texas, you generally have up to two years to file a lawsuit after a motor vehicle accident. Still, critical evidence in truck accident cases can be lost or destroyed long before that deadline. For instance, trucking companies are only required to preserve hours of service logs for six months. They are only required to keep maintenance logs for a year (and remember, the relevant inspection may have been months before the accident). A truck accident lawyer can intervene to preserve this evidence before it is destroyed.

The trucking companies know the importance of timing, which is why they often have investigators on the scene within 24 hours to protect their interests. You need to be just as proactive to level the playing field. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident in Dallas or anywhere in Texas, talk to a truck accident attorney in your area today.

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