After a truck accident resulting in injuries, there are often more questions than answers. Victims and family members want to know what caused the accident, who was responsible, what insurance coverage may be available, and much more.
At the law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz, we help people through the aftermath of serious 18-wheeler accidents. For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, please call us at 800-580-9121. Otherwise, you can complete our online contact form.
Please read the following information for answers to frequently asked questions about semi-truck accidents.
Q: Why should someone hire an attorney immediately after a crash with a commercial vehicle or 18 Wheeler?
A: The main reason someone should hire an attorney if they have been involved in a crash involving a 18 Wheeler or a commercial vehicle is that the company has attorneys at the scene before the vehicles are removed. I recently spoke to a lawyer who specializes in defending these companies and he told me that he has a team of attorneys around the country that are on call 24/7 and whenever there is a crash involving one of their clients vehicles, they are actually flown to the scene to take statements from the witnesses, meet with the police officers, document and photograph the scene and immediately begin working on the defenses, if any, to the tractor trailer driver's behavior.
Q: What are some of the different theories of liability alleged in trucking accidents?
A: This is a pretty interesting area of practice because there are several ways in which trucking companies and their drivers can be responsible for the accident out on the roadway. This is another reason why it is important to hire an attorney to assist you with these claims. What many people think of when they think of automobile accidents is the owner of the vehicle is typically the driver and that person is typically the one responsible, if there is a crash. Well with 18 Wheelers and commercial vehicles, there are lots more moving parts involved. The owner of the vehicle may not even be employed by the company or may not be employed by the person who is hauling the load. The owner of the trailer may be a separate company. Sometimes you have what are called owner-operators who own their own truck but work for someone else. All of these various entities have responsibilities under the Department of Transportation's regulations that govern the operation and use of tractor trailers on a roadway. There are different theories such as negligent hiring which relates to when a company hires a long-haul or over the road driver and doesn't properly do the investigation and the tests that are needed under the DOT regulations. Whether it be a drug screen, whether it being doing a background check, whether it be contacting former employers. Those are all necessary requirements before a driver can be hired and put behind the wheel of an 80,000 lb. vehicle. Another theory of liability may be negligent entrustment or negligent in retention. Negligent entrustment means if you know that a driver's got a history of problems and you put that driver behind the wheel of one of your trucks, you are responsible for those accidents. Last but not least is the theory of negligent retention. It's similar to negligent entrustment. It means keeping a driver on after they've had dischargeable or fireable offenses and still allowing them to operate one of your tractor trailers.
Q: What are some of the driver's actions that can be considered negligent?
A: Driver actions in tractor trailer cases can be a broader scope than a typical auto accident case. Because of the duties and requirements of commercial drivers and
the expanded duties of the Department of Transportation regulations, they are held to a higher standard. Most commonly you run into situations where you have trucks turning left and not clearing the roadway in time and their trailer sticks out into a lane of traffic and you have an impact there. You also have situations that involve tractor trailer driver's stopping their trucks, either on the side of the highway and not getting off the road completely, or failure to put up any warning devices such as the orange triangles or flashing lights to make sure that drivers of other vehicles can see when the trailer is parked on the side of the road. An up and coming and new theory of liability is what's called underrides. Many times you'll see when you pull up behind a tractor trailer, there's a bar that keeps your car, in the event that you were to rear end that trailer, from going up underneath the trailer. Well there are some product theory liability cases that the trailer should also have those underride protection on the sides of the trailers. So in the event you get in a wreck and hit the side of a trailer, your car won't go completely under the trailer and then eventually get run over by the rear tandems. Rear end collisions, to kind of tie back into failure to properly put warning signals out if you're stopped on the side of the road, another interesting litigation theory is when cargo ships, these tractor trailers can be loaded sometimes with up to 40,000 lbs. Of cargo and if not properly secured or properly distributed on the trailer, it can cause the operator to lose control of his vehicle or in worse case scenario, the load itself just falls off onto the roadway and either lands on your car or causes you to take some appropriate action to avoid it which then leads to a crash.
Q: Does insurance cover these claims? And if so, how much coverage is there?
A: Insurance is required for a company that's going to operate a commercial vehicle on the roads of Texas and the rest of the states. The Department of Transportation, again, governs and licenses what type of insurance is required. Another reason to hire an attorney is the web of insurance coverage can be very tricky to understand and until litigation has commenced, the insurance company has no obligation to tell you how much coverage there is. The minimum requirements are $500,000 worth of insurance per injury or occurrence, which means basically per crash, you have to have at least $500,000 worth of insurance. Now many trucking companies carry much more insurance than that and some of them carry the bare minimums. There's another unique aspect to the insurance coverage as it relates to commercial vehicles. It's the MSC90 endorsement which is an endorsement on an insurance policy that mandates insurance companies provide coverage even to commercial vehicles that may not be specifically listed on the insurance policy. And the reason for that is to protect the motoring public in the event there's a crash involving the commercial vehicle and force the insurance company and then seek reimbursement from the owner of the company; not punish the individual who's been injured.
Q: Are the trucking companies really trying to help me when they contact me and my family after a crash?
A: Not to sound too cynical but I never believe they are. Trucking companies, like I said at the beginning, are notorious for having people at the scene almost immediately. Whether they fly down in their corporate jet and have their investigators and their company reps there to protect the driver and to speak with the police. There job is not to look after you and yom' family, if you've been injured, but to make sure they can minimize the claim as much as possible. What happens sometimes is they will contact you immediately to try to get a statement and then try to resolve the claim at a discounted rate. Typically when someone's injured as a result of a commercial vehicle or an 18 Wheeler, the injuries are much more severe than a regular auto crash because of the weight involved of the vehicles. This means longer lasting injuries, more surgeries, more medical bills and the uncertainty of what the future may hold. If the trucking company is able to get you to settle early at a reduced rate, then they can cut off their exposure for any medical bills that you may incur down the road as a result of the crash. So, bottom line is, trucking companies and their corporate representatives are not out trying to help you when they call you immediately after the crash.
Q: Is the most important thing you can do, is to contact a lawyer to make sure you can get fair compensation for your claim?
A: Absolutely. Without contacting a lawyer and without putting the trucking company on notice that litigation may ensue. They are under no obligation to
retain any of the critical documents that are necessary to successfully prove your case. Those documents include the driver's log books, the bills of lading, sometimes the qual comm or GPS data that's involved in the trucks to show how many miles that driver drove within the last 12 hours, where they stopped, what they were doing. Without hiring a lawyer and requesting this information in writing, the trucking company has no obligation to keep it except for a very short period of time. So your best bet is to contact an experienced and skilled law firm such as our own.
Q: What are some of the qualifications that truck drivers need to meet?
A: Truck drivers need to have a valid commercial driver's license as well as they need to meet some physical fitness requirements. Truck drivers also need to be aware of the state and federal motor carrier safety regulations. Also, in Texas they to be aware of the provisions of the Texas Commercial Driver's Handbook.
Q: What are some of the qualifications missing in your opinion that could prevent eighteen wheeler accidents?
A: You know based on our experience, what we have seen is that a lot of accidents can be prevented or could have been prevented if the drivers had been given more training in making proper and safe lane changes as well as driving in adverse conditions and when I say adverse conditions I mean driving in rain or fog or sleet and definitely driving in rain is one of the major causes of accidents in Texas.
Q: What are some of the other things that could be done to prevent eighteen wheeler accidents?
A: There are specialized training programs, one of them being the Smith system of safe driving. A lot of the major carriers across the country implement this system to train their drivers, like I said again in especially in making lane changes, as well as driving in adverse conditions and if these drivers have had these proper training a lot of these accidents could have been prevented.
Q: Who would someone injured in an eighteen wheeler accident sue? The trucking company or a truck driver, in other words, who is responsible?
A: Well what we see in almost every case is that both the trucking company and the truck driver are responsible. The truck driver is the one who is responsible for the actual accident, however, we've seen companies push their drivers to meet deadlines while violating the hours of service regulations sometimes these drivers are fatigued, sometimes they also do not have proper training even after being in accidents in the past, they continue to drive on the road that results in another incident, therefore, both the trucking company and the track driver are liable.
Q: When is it too late to sue for compensation?
A: Under Texas law you have typically two years to file suit, however, trucking cases are slightly different in the nature that the truck companies are not required to preserve the evidence for until after a certain period of time. Furthermore, there is evidence that is in the black box of these trucks which gets lost over time and most importantly the physical evidence at the scene such as the gouge marks or skid marks which can be crucial to the investigation disappears over time since it is outdoors, it's on the freeway, there is other vehicles driving on the evidence, there is also weather conditions, therefore although a victim has two years to bring a case, the sooner they can get their investigators out there the better it is for their case.