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.
The Texas truck accident attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner, help people through the aftermath of serious 18-wheeler accidents. For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, please call us at 713-396-3964. Otherwise, you can complete our online contact form.
Truck Accident FAQs
Please read the following information for answers to frequently asked questions about semi-truck or 18-wheeler 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 immediately hire an attorney if they have been involved in a crash involving an 18-wheeler or a commercial vehicle is that the company has attorneys at the scene before the vehicles are removed.
We know lawyers who specialize in defending these companies who have teams of attorneys and investigators around the country that are on call 24/7. Whenever there is a crash involving one of their client’s vehicles, those teams are deployed to the scene to take statements from the witnesses, meet with investigating police officers, document and photograph the scene, and immediately begin working on their defense strategy, if any, to the commercial driver’s behavior and/or any other circumstances that may reduce the driver’s liability.
Q: What are some of the different theories of liability alleged in trucking accidents?
A: There are several ways in which trucking companies and their drivers can be held responsible for roadway collisions. This is another reason why it is important to hire a qualified attorney with extensive trucking litigation experience to assist you with these claims.
In the context of automobile accidents, many people assume the owner of the vehicle involved in the collision is also the driver and responsible party for the crash. With 18-wheelers and commercial vehicles, there are many 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 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which are adopted in all 50 states across the country and govern the operation and use of 18-wheelers on public roadways.
Additionally, there are different theories such as negligent hiring that relate directly to companies who fail to properly screen, test, and train new drivers as is required under applicable regulations. Whether it be a drug screen, conducting a background check, or contacting former employers, trucking and other commercial-auto companies are bound to several requirements before a driver can be hired and put behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle.
Other theories of liability made directly against the company (versus the driver) include negligent entrustment and negligent retention. Generally, negligent entrustment means if you know that a driver has a history of problems and you put that driver behind the wheel of one of your trucks, you are responsible for those accidents. Negligent retention refers to a company’s choice to keep a driver behind the wheel after they have committed a dischargeable or fireable offense.
Q: What are some of the driver’s actions that can be considered negligent?
A: Driver actions in 18-wheeler cases include a broader scope of misconduct than a typical auto accident case. Because of the duties and requirements of commercial drivers and the expanded duties of federal commercial driving regulations, they are held to a higher standard.
Common accidents with 18-wheelers include trucks turning and/or failing to clear the roadway in a timely manner. These scenarios can put other drivers on the roadway in immediate peril, especially when a trailer unexpectedly blocks an active lane of traffic and fails to utilize proper warning devices, such as reflective cones and flashing lights.
Finally, 18-wheelers are often loaded with thousands of pounds of cargo. If a trailer’s cargo is not properly secured or distributed, subtle shifts in a load can cause an operator to lose control of their vehicle or the entire load itself. For these reasons, operators are required to follow strict loading and securing guidelines and may face liability if their load ever becomes loose or causes a crash while in transit.
Q: Does insurance cover these claims? And if so, how much coverage is there?
A: Insurance is required for any company that operates a commercial vehicle on public roadways. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as adopted by all 50 states across the country governs what type of insurance is required. 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 liability limits that each company is required to carry for vehicles with gross weight ratings of 10,001 pounds or more begins at $750,000 per occurrence, but may increase depending on the type of freight transported by the commercial vehicle.
Another unique aspect to insurance coverage for commercial vehicles is the MSC90 endorsement, which extends coverage for policyholders to commercial vehicles that may not be specifically listed on the insurance policy. This is another example of why an exhaustive coverage analysis for a commercial auto defendant is necessary to ensure that injured victims are entitled to the fullest extent of applicable coverage as may be possible.
Q: Are the trucking companies really trying to help me when they contact me and my family after a crash?
A: Trucking companies are notorious for having people at the scene almost immediately. Whether they fly down in their corporate jet and have their investigators and company reps there to protect the driver and to speak with the police. Their job is not to look after you and your family, but to make sure they can minimize any personal injury claim arising from a collision or loss as much as possible. Sometimes trucking companies may try and contact injured victims immediately after the incident and before they have had a chance to speak with a lawyer. In our experience, the main purpose for these communications is to try to get a statement to limit any future testimony about the case and/or resolve the claim at a discounted rate.
Typically, when someone is 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 with commercial vehicles. This means longer-lasting injuries, more surgeries, more medical bills, and the uncertainty of what the future may hold. If a 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.
Q: What are some of the qualifications that truck drivers need to meet?
A: Commercial truck drivers must have at least a valid commercial driver’s license and be able 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 should 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 18-wheeler accidents?
A: Based on our experience, 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 such as rain, fog, and/or sleet. Failure to adjust driving habits in rain or on slick roads is one of the major causes of trucking accidents in Texas.
Q: What are some of the other things that could be done to prevent 18-wheeler accidents?
A: There are specialized training programs, such as the Smith System of safe driving. Many of the major carriers across the country implement this system to train their drivers., Other specialized training that can have a big impact on safe driving practices and accident prevention include other maneuvers while operating large, over-sized commercial vehicles, such as lane changes, turns, and driving in adverse conditions.
Q: Who would someone injured in an 18-wheeler accident sue? The trucking company or a truck driver, in other words, who is responsible?
A: Most often, both the trucking company and the truck driver are responsible. The truck driver is the one who is responsible for the actual accident and has a nondelegable duty to safely drive his/her vehicle on public roads. In other words, the driver cannot shift this duty onto their employer just because they worked for a trucking company at the time of an incident. Generally, companies are also liable for the negligence of their commercial drivers and may also face direct negligence liability for their own negligence in causing an accident. Direct negligence liability against a company can include entrusting a vehicle to a driver they knew to be reckless, or the company’s own negligence in hiring, training, and/or retaining a driver that they knew or should have known was not fit to safely drive a commercial vehicle on public roadways. Often times, we see trucking companies push their drivers to meet deadlines while violating the hours of service regulations. These practices are not only unlawful, but senselessly endanger the public by making drivers excessively fatigued and more likely to make a mistake that can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.
Q: When is it too late to sue for compensation?
A: Under Texas law you typically have two years to file suit, However, truck companies have no duty to preserve the evidence of their vehicle or a crash for any period of time, unless properly put on notice to do so. Following any trucking collision, it is crucial to speak with a lawyer quickly so that they can timely preserve critical evidence that may reveal failures and statutory violations that led to a roadway crash. For example, the black box data of commercial trucks gets lost over time and physical evidence at the scene of a crash, such as the gouge marks or skid marks, can disappear or fade over time with other vehicles and traffic driving over the crash scene. Although a victim has two years to bring a case, the sooner they can speak with a lawyer the better chances that evidence critical to their case can be preserved.