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Who’s Responsible for a Commercial Truck Accident in Texas?

Offered by John R. Solis, Attorney at Law

Understand who’s liable for paying for your commercial truck accident

Commercial trucks – heavy tractor-trailers, delivery trucks, tanker trucks and other large commercial trucks – require skill and caution to operate. Their sheer size means wider turns and longer stopping distances, and in a collision with a smaller vehicle, the difference in size can cause significant property damage and horrific bodily injuries.

Most commercial drivers are safe, responsible operators, but those who are not safe and responsible need to be held accountable through the civil justice system. Victims and their families need to know how the legal system works in Texas.

Why commercial vehicle accidents happen in Texas

Every motorist has a shared responsibility to stay safe on the road, but drivers of large commercial vehicles have added responsibilities because their vehicles can be so dangerous. That’s why a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required for anyone who operates a vehicle that weighs 26,000 pounds or more. It’s also why truck drivers are held to strict legal standards, such as a maximum blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04 (half the legal limit for other drivers over 21) and a national ban on texting and driving.

Distracted driving is a significant problem among commercial drivers. Many spend their entire working days behind the wheel, but that doesn’t excuse taking their attention off the road. Truckers may cause accidents by texting or using electronic devices, eating and drinking, talking to a dispatcher, or merely adjusting the radio. It only takes a moment of inattention to cause a serious crash.

Drinking and drug use, too, are significant problems. So is falling asleep at the wheel. Federal hours of service (HOS) regulations limit the time commercial truckers are allowed to spend driving.  However, many trucking companies put pressure on their drivers to ignore these laws so they can make deliveries faster. Furthermore, some truck drivers ignore these regulations so that they can make more deliveries and, as such, more money. Companies and drivers are notorious for giving money a higher priority than safety.

Not all commercial vehicle crashes are caused by operator error. Maintenance and manufacturing issues with the vehicle itself – for example, problems with the brakes or steering – are a factor in many serious crashes.

Is Texas an ‘at-fault’ insurance state?

Yes. Texas is an “at-fault” insurance state. This means the at-fault party is responsible for compensating injury victims for their accident-related expenses. As a result, if someone else caused your accident, the at-fault party should pay for your expenses.

Legally, you are entitled to be financially compensated for all your injury-related expenses, including short-term expenses (emergency medical care, vehicle repairs, replacement income, etc.) as well as anticipated future expenses (follow-up medical care, lost income if you cannot return to work, etc.). Such financial compensation is known as compensatory damages.

In a commercial vehicle case, those damages can be quite substantial, and again, the at-fault party (often the trucking company or another business involved in the crash) is on the hook for those costs. That’s why they may intensely dispute fault for the accident.

How liability works in commercial vehicle accidents

If someone caused your accident, the at-fault party is responsible for paying for all your injury-related expenses. If your accident was caused by an employee driving a company vehicle in the course and scope of their employment, then the employer is vicariously liable (responsible) for their employee’s negligence. This is a legal doctrine called respondeat superior – literally, “let the master answer.” If the driver was an independent contractor, however, then whether this doctrine applies is a much more complex legal question.

A business can also be held directly liable for a crash if their negligence was a contributing factor. For example, if the company hired an unqualified driver or failed to conduct a background check that would have shown a history of unsafe driving, that could constitute negligence on the company’s part. The same is true if they failed to maintain the vehicle and the poor maintenance contributed to the accident.

Under some circumstances, the manufacturer of a vehicle or component parts of a vehicle can be held liable for a commercial vehicle accident. For example, if a mechanical defect in the brakes caused the crash, then the manufacturer can be held responsible for their defective product. Some commercial vehicle crashes also involve negligence on the part of another driver – for instance, someone who changed lanes without signaling or stopped short in front of the truck.

Every crash is different. This is why it’s critical that you have an experienced attorney investigating your accident as soon as possible.

How can a lawyer help after a commercial vehicle accident?

Insurance companies, the trucking company and anyone else who could potentially be held responsible for your crash (and ultimately responsible for paying for your accident) will have attorneys on their side looking for ways to avoid responsibility and deny your claim.

Your lawyer can help level the playing field. Your attorney can investigate your crash and search for evidence in support of your injury claim. In particular, your lawyer can take legal action to preserve trucking company records, including hiring records, inspection reports and the truck driver’s Hours of Service (HOS) logs. Again, commercial truck drivers can only drive a limited number of hours each day before they must take a mandatory break. HOS logs record how long the driver was on the road before they caused the collision.

It’s also important to understand that important evidence related to truck accidents may disappear after a crash. HOS logs, for example, are only required to be kept for 6 months. Another example is the truck’s so-called black box data, which is stored in the event data recorder (EDR). The EDR records the speed the truck was traveling at the time of the crash, if the truck driver applied the brakes before the collision and when the truck driver last took a break. Black box data is typically deleted and overwritten after 250 ignition cycles (depending on the type of EDR), which is often just 3 to 4 weeks of operating the truck. An attorney needs to intervene promptly to preserve this critical evidence before it disappears.

A lawyer can also investigate whether other state or federal trucking laws were broken and resulted in the crash. One of the most important trucking laws is Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which is enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). If your attorney can find evidence that the truck driver, the trucking company or anyone else broke any of these laws, you will likely have a strong legal case in support of your injury claim.

Discover how a dedicated attorney can assist with your claim. Schedule an appointment with an experienced Texas truck accident lawyer in your area today. Truck accident lawyers offer free consultations and work on contingency, so there’s no downside to getting answers about your legal rights.

Truck Accidents Assistance
John R. Solis, Attorney at Law
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Serving Laredo, Webb County, and surrounding communities, John R. Solis, Attorney at Law has been helping victims and families fight for compensation for over two decades. We hand...