Determining Liability in Texas Trucking Accidents

Texas trucking accidents account for a fraction of all traffic-related accidents that occur in Texas roadways. However, they have the potential to be much more dangerous than motor vehicle traffic accidents. Due to the sheer weight and size of most trucks, injuries, and fatalities resulting from trucking accidents are far higher than most car accidents. Many vehicles also haul hazardous loads that can pose additional risks if they are spilled or otherwise compromised during a crash. Additionally, large trucks are much more likely to be involved in fatal multiple-vehicle crashes compared to fatal single-vehicle crashes. As a Texas truck accident lawyer, I have seen the devastating effects that a trucking accident can have on victims and their families, and I’m not alone in recognizing the devastation caused by trucking accidents.

Truck Accident Statistics

According to 2018 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,675 people were killed and 80,000 injured in crashes that involved large trucks (of which there were 276,000 such crashes). These statistics represent a 9% increase in fatalities and an 8% increase in the number of injuries compared to statistics from 2011.

Factors in Texas Trucking Accidents

Like motor vehicle accidents, trucking accidents can occur as a result of a variety of factors. Most trucking accidents are caused by driver error, and fatigue and sleep deprivations are the leading contributors to such inaccuracy. Another common cause is equipment failure, which might occur in the form of brake failure due to improper maintenance. Maintenance issues such as tire blowouts as a result of wear and tear, defective lighting, or an improperly attached trailer top the list of maintenance issues that lead to trucking accidents Other factors can also contribute to trucking accidents, including adverse weather, road conditions, and traffic signal failure.

Liability in 18-Wheeler Accidents

Determining liability in trucking-related accidents can be much more complicated than doing so for everyday motor vehicle accidents. Large trucks are not always owned by their driver or even the company for which they are hauling cargo. As a result, multiple parties may need to be included in determining their role in the accident. Key players often include the truck driver, the owner of the truck and trailer, the company that leased the truck or trailer, and even the manufacturer of the truck, trailer, the tires, or any other parts that may have contributed to the accident in some way. In some instances, even the shipper or loader of the cargo in the trailer may be at fault. Or, a third-party maintenance company may be at fault if they were involved in maintaining any part of the truck or trailer.

There are numerous federal laws and regulations in place to govern the trucking industry in the United States. Agencies involved in this area include the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Additionally, each state establishes its own set of trucking laws and regulations. The purpose of these laws is to establish specific standards that must be met by trucking companies, truck owners, and truck drivers. Accordingly, these laws are often essential to determining who is liable for a trucking-related accident.

Since so many parties can potentially come into play in the event of a trucking accident, infighting between them is not uncommon. Consider this example: a large truck with a flatbed trailer loses control in a curve, and the load separates from the truck, colliding with a passenger vehicle. The truck company might argue that a defective trailer hitch caused the accident. In turn, the manufacturer of the trailer hitch might claim that that the leasing company failed to maintain the hitch in proper working order. The leasing company might argue that the shipping company was also at fault for failing to secure the load on the flatbed. Such circular arguments are common in trucking-related accidents, as each party tries to deflect blame and hold the other party’s insurance company responsible for compensating the victim(s).

Possible Liability of Trucking Companies

Historically, trucking companies have gone to great lengths to avoid being held liable for accidents. They would do so by obtaining the required permits to operate the truck, but then lease all equipment, trucks, and trailers from the “owner/operator.” Also, trucking companies would not directly employ drivers, but instead would hire them in an “independent contractor” capacity. Next, the trucking company would give the owner/operator something known as a placard, which would contain the name of the trucking company and all permit numbers. This placard would then be placed on the door of the truck, giving the impression that the truck is owned by the named trucking company, and that the driver is employed there as well. If the trucking company was sued in association with an accident, the company would argue that it was not liable since the driver was not technically its employee, nor did it own the equipment and is therefore not responsible for any operation or maintenance thereof.

Fortunately, these evasive tactics are no longer permissible under current federal trucking laws. Now, any company that owns a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that bears its placard or name anywhere on the vehicle. The lease terms and employment status of the driver are irrelevant as well.

Accident Victims Rights

Besides, victims of trucking accidents now have access to information that might prove vital to establishing liability about their particular accident. For example, current federal and state regulations mandate that a certified truck inspector inspect any commercial truck and trailer that is involved in a crash before it is removed from the scene of the accident. The inspector compiles a report of his or her observations, documenting the condition of the mechanical parts of the truck and the trailer; the report is available to the victim by contacting the appropriate government agency. Moreover, the trucking industry now utilizes devices similar to the “black boxes” that are used to store vital operational and human data on airplanes. In trucks, these devices log data about truck speed, speed patterns, brake use, and length of travel. Often, this data is erased periodically following trucking company policies. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that this data is preserved in the event of a trucking accident, as it may contain relevant and indisputable facts regarding liability.

A Texas truck accident lawyer can be instrumental in ensuring that the interests of the injured party are served, and that appropriate compensation is received. Personal injury attorneys can work to obtain relevant corporate and government inspection records needed to help determine liability, assist with connecting injured clients with appropriate and highly qualified medical specialists, and even reconstruct the truck accident using high-technology methods. In doing so, a Texas truck accident attorney can help their clients identify every individual or company that is liable, and give their client the highest chance to recover appropriate damages for their injuries.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a Texas 18-wheeler accident, it’s essential to contact an attorney who can fight to protect the rights of injured persons.