According to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, large trucks were involved in 16,897 crashes in the state of Texas in 2020. These accidents involved 18,292 vehicles, resulting in 8,914 injuries and 619 fatalities.
Texas annually ranks as the number-one state for accidents involving vehicles that are commonly referred to as semis, big rigs, tractor-trailers, and 18-wheelers. These behemoths of the road can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, so their impact on a vehicle weighing maybe two tons can be devastating. Injuries suffered in trucking accidents are no mere fender-bender resulting in scratches or head jolt — you can find yourself recovering for an extended period.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, or have lost a loved one to such an accident, and you’re located in Austin, Texas, or nearby in Georgetown, Bastrop, or Marble Hills, contact me at the Greenway Law Firm. I have been representing personal injury victims for over 25 years, and I will fight for you to receive the just compensation you deserve.
Both the state of Texas and the federal government maintain standards and regulations for the operation of trucks. Federal laws stem from Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations and are generally referred to as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Though these regulations cover everything from driver qualifications and truck maintenance to repair and insurance requirements, they also limit the hours a truck driver can be on the road.
In a 24-hour period, federal regulations mandate 10 hours of rest and 14 hours of work time. Of those 14 hours of work, only 11 can be spent behind the wheel. There are also weekly limits of between 60 and 70 hours on duty, depending on whether the truck sits idle for a day or not.
The Texas Transportation Code establishes limits on the size, weight, and loads of large trucks. It also sets repair and maintenance standards and enforces strict rules on trucking maneuvers on the road. As for hours on the road for truck drivers, Texas enforces its own rules for intrastate drivers; drivers crossing state borders must adhere to federal standards.
The Texas standards require eight hours of rest, followed by 15 hours on duty — with only 12 of those behind the wheel. No driver may be on duty for more than 70 hours in a seven-day period.
Needless to say, not all companies or drivers religiously follow these rules, which can lead to driver fatigue, operator error, and accidents.
The FMCSA says that the most common cause of trucking accidents is driver error. Other factors leading to accidents include driver fatigue, distracted driving, unsecured cargo, inadequate training, improper maintenance, dangerous weather, and road hazards.
Accidents involving trucks are similar to those involving cars. Many are head-on collisions, side impacts, and rear-enders. With trucks, there is also the possibility of what’s called an “underride accident.” This involves a smaller vehicle becoming wedged underneath the truck. Underride accidents typically result in serious injury or death.
Texas imposes a two-year statute of limitations on filing a personal injury lawsuit, dating from the day of the accident. No one should wait that long, however, even if injuries don’t end up surfacing until later. If you’ve been involved in an accident with a big rig, seek medical evaluation immediately. Don’t wait for pain or possible incapacitation to set in before taking action.
Insurance companies expect you to report the accident as quickly as possible. They’re not going to wait two years. Start with the insurers. A personal injury lawsuit can always be filed later if the situation warrants it.
As you can imagine from the causes of truck accidents mentioned above, more than just the driver may be responsible for an accident. The individuals who loaded the cargo may be responsible if an unbalanced load causes the center of gravity of the truck to deviate, or if the cargo dislodges and causes an accident.
Maintenance personnel can be held liable if tires and brakes are not maintained in safe driving conditions. The trucking company, in addition to the driver, can be liable if it fails to properly train its employees or adhere to mandated hours of operation. Even the manufacturer can be liable if a defect in the truck leads to the accident.
Under the legal principle of vicarious liability, a lawsuit can target several different at-fault parties, individually or collectively.
Texas law relies on what’s called a “modified comparative negligence” standard. This means that, in assessing liability for any accident, both the victim and the operator of the other vehicle will be assigned a percentage of fault. If there’s a lawsuit, the jury will be asked to assign comparative fault. Even if it’s just an insurance claim, the claims adjusters will work to establish who’s at fault and for what percentage.
Say you file a claim against a trucking company for injuries you’ve sustained in an accident with one of their trucks. If the adjusters or jury find that you were 20% at fault for driving over the speed limit, your compensation will be reduced by that percentage. If your total compensation awarded for medical expenses, lost wages, and other economic and non-economic damages total $20,000, you will receive only $16,000 — $20,000 minus your 20% of the fault.
If your fault is found to be greater than 50%, you are not eligible to recover anything.
If you’re the victim, you must first be aware of the statute of limitations and also be aware that you must prove that the truck operator (or another entity) caused the accident through negligence. Drivers on Texas highways owe other drivers a duty of driving responsibly, but this does not equate automatically to your prevailing in a claim. If you’re able to do so, take photos of everything from every angle immediately after the accident, gather witness testimony, and document everything.
You are also required to call 911 and involve the police when there’s an injury. After the police come and do their investigation, try to get a copy of their report for your records (though this may take some time after the accident itself because of filing procedures).
Recovering compensation for a truck accident is not something you want to undertake on your own. Even negotiating with insurance adjusters can be a challenge, as they will try to trick and goad you into saying something they can use to low-ball you or even deny your claim.
Because trucking accidents can involve so many different parties, from the truck company to the maintenance people to the cargo loaders and the driver, you are going to need the services of a skilled personal injury attorney. Call me immediately. I can sort through the details and help you identify who’s at fault.
If you’ve lost a loved one in a truck accident, you need to file a lawsuit within three months of the date of their death if you’re a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the deceased. After three months, Texas law requires the personal representative, or executor of the person’s will, to file the suit on behalf of the estate. The beneficiaries can still be surviving family members, but this adds another legal hurdle to the process.
If you or a loved one was injured in a truck accident in Austin, Texas, or the nearby areas of Georgetown, Bastrop, or Marble Hills, let me handle the negotiations and investigate to see if a personal injury lawsuit is in order. Reach out to me immediately at the Greenway Law Firm to schedule a consultation to discuss your accident.