As a trucker, safety is your number one priority. When an accident happens, there’s a lot to consider.
How do insurance claims work? Who is liable? Who will pay for your medical bills? When can you return to your job? It’s an intimidating situation, to say the least.
As a Houston truck accident lawyer and head of my own personal injury firm for over 20 years, I’m here to give you the details. Below you’ll find the steps you need to take for a smooth recovery—physically and financially.
Truck Accident Liability: Who’s At Fault?
The basis of every personal injury case is simple: someone’s negligence hurt someone else. The negligent person is known as the “liable” or “at-fault” party.
In truck accident cases, there could be multiple liable parties and multiple insurance companies to deal with. The goal of a truck accident lawyer is to determine which parties should be held responsible for an injured victim’s losses and expenses, and then pursue maximum compensation from all the available sources.
So who is liable for a truck accident?
In general, trucking companies are responsible for accidents caused by their drivers as long as the driver is “on the clock” at the time of the accident, acting “within the scope of employment.” Exceptions to this rule include:
-if the driver was an independent contractor
-if the driver intentionally caused the accident
-if the driver was given a ticket
Were you given a ticket at the scene of the accident? You’re more likely to be placed at fault if you broke the law by speeding, driving under the influence, or violating company regulations, just to name a few possibilities.
If you were employed by a company, the injured victim(s) will probably go after your employer, not after you individually. This is because trucking companies tend to hold commercial insurance policies with higher payout limits.
There are many ways a trucking company could contribute to an accident. For example, did these employers fail to properly service their trucks? Did they set unreasonable goals for their truckers, forcing them to drive in unsafe conditions or exceed federal restrictions for the number of driving hours? Did they hire irresponsible drivers without doing background checks? Did they fail to provide proper training? There are a ton of possibilities, and a truck accident lawyer will investigate them all.
Here are other potentially liable parties in a truck accident:
Drivers in smaller cars can cause trouble for big trucks. Did an aggressive driver cut you off? Did traffic come to a sudden standstill? Many factors come into play here.
Auto parts manufacturers are responsible for producing safe vehicles and parts free of defects. If a faulty auto part causes an accident, the manufacturing company may share the blame for the accident. Truck accident lawyers, crash reconstruction experts, and investigators can help you get to the bottom of this.
Fleet mechanics conduct routine inspections on trucks to ensure they’re safe to take on the road. If a mechanic fails to notice a problem that later causes a wreck, it can quickly turn into a matter of life and death! They could potentially be liable for accident-related damages.
Whoever Loaded the Truck
Did cargo fall off of the truck and cause an accident? Did the shifting weight of an unsecured load contribute to a rollover? In scenarios like these, it’s important to find out who loaded the truck and what company they worked for. Shippers and loaders may be held responsible for any accidents related to unsecured cargo.
Remember: truck drivers are protected from retaliation under federal law. You cannot be fired for reporting hazardous working conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If you notice shady practices, speak up. You could save a life.
Other Common Causes of Houston Truck Accidents
If you need to meet a particularly tight deadline, you may be tempted to go over the speed limit. Don’t press your luck. “Failure to control speed” was a factor in more than 113,000 auto accidents in Texas last year. 475 were fatal.
This is a broad category: snacking, checking a map, talking on the phone, you name it! Always remember to check your blind spots, and never engage in any behavior that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or your mind off of driving.
Unfortunately, exhaustion is a common issue among long-haul truck drivers. That’s why the FMCSA wants you to keep your logbooks up-to-date and allow for adequate break times. Did you know drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving? Speaking of…
Driving While Intoxicated
In 2020, there were 75 fatal DUI accidents in Houston alone. Drunk driving contributed to an additional 2,280 accidents in the city. Trucking companies are supposed to conduct routine drug tests, but they don’t always follow this rule. Never turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress and monotony of long journeys.
Tire blowouts, faulty brakes, and shifting cargo can all cause problems for large trucks. This is why they require thorough routine inspections. Trucking companies are responsible for conducting these inspections and properly maintaining their fleet in order to keep everyone on the road safe and sound.
Even if you’re a safe and responsible driver, you may be unlucky enough to encounter roads with sudden or sharp curves, unexpected debris, or bad weather conditions like wind and rain. All of these increase the likelihood of a truck accident.
What Do I Do After a Truck Accident?
Now you know who might be liable for a truck accident, but how do you prove it?
After any accident, follow these steps:
#1. Call 911
Truck accidents often leave devastating injuries in their wake. Even if no one seems injured, you still need to call to report the accident, and the police need to visit the scene so they can create an accident report.
Note: Texas law requires you to report any auto accident that involves injury, death, or more than $1,000 of property damage.
In addition to a police accident report, your company should have established a process on how you can create your own accident report. Your report will include as many details as possible, such as the date, time, weather conditions, and location of the accident, and contact information and insurance information for anyone else who was involved. Do not leave the scene of the accident until an officer instructs you to.
#2. Exchange Info and Collect Evidence
Stop and exchange contact info and insurance info with everyone involved. Carefully take photos of the vehicles and surrounding area. Don’t make a statement, don’t admit fault, and don’t speculate! It sounds easy enough, but when you’re nervous and stressed, you may say things that will harm your claim.
It’s important to preserve all evidence as soon as possible. Truck accident lawyers know how to track down every bit of available evidence, such as:
-Photos of the accident scene and damaged property
-Police reports (Note: police reports don’t always determine fault, and when they do, they aren’t always 100% correct.)
-Truck black boxes (These devices record info like the speed at which the truck was traveling, how long the driver was on the road, and when they used their brakes.)
-Dashcam footage or other surveillance videos
-Logbooks and trucking company records
-Cell phone records
Subpoenas allow your truck accident attorney to access trucking company logbooks, truck GPS system records, the black box, cell phone records, and more. These sources provide valuable supporting evidence for your Houston truck accident case, helping you maximize your settlement.
#3. Go to a Doctor ASAP
After a truck accident, prompt medical care is important. Even if you weren’t whisked away in an ambulance, you need to see a doctor and follow through with any recommended medical treatment.
The treatment process uncovers details about injuries you suffered in the crash and how they’ll change your daily life. When accident victims try to ignore their aches and pains, the results are never good. Sometimes, symptoms of serious injuries don’t appear until days after the accident. Additionally, insurance adjusters will use any “gaps in treatment” to deny your claim. Don’t delay.
Lawyers have networks of doctors, therapists, investigators, and other experts. Together, they collaborate on cases and help injured victims recover. Whether you need x-rays, physical therapy, a rental car, or all of the above, we’ve got you covered. Best of all, you won’t pay a cent out of your own pocket. Thanks to liens and letters of protection, your lawyer can coordinate payment with various providers via a portion of your final truck accident settlement. You won’t have to worry about following up and settling these bills—that’s our job, too!
#4. Report the Accident, But Never Give A Recorded Statement
If you are working for a trucking company, they should provide you with insurance coverage, but you’ll still need to call and report the accident. Proceed with caution! Insurance adjusters might act friendly, but they’ll twist your words and accuse you of exaggerating your losses. They’ll ask you for a recorded statement, and anything you say can—and will—be used against you!
There is no obligation to provide a recorded statement to the insurance company.
Bottom line? Don’t let anyone pressure you. Your best option is to direct all further communication to your truck accident attorney. Insurance companies aren’t on your side, but a truck accident lawyer can be a vital ally against them. Let us protect your rights and your finances.
Most accident claims settle out of court during the negotiation phase. However, if you cannot reach an agreement even with the help of a mediator, you’ll move on to litigation.
#5. Contact A Local Truck Accident Lawyer
Most Houston truck accident lawyers work for a contingency fee. This means you pay nothing upfront and nothing at all unless you win; payment is entirely contingent on the success of your case. Put simply, we don’t get paid unless you get paid! Legal fees are taken from a percentage of your final settlement award. This percentage is usually discussed during your initial consultation, and this arrangement ensures the lawyer’s goals are aligned with your goals.
Houston Truck Accident FAQ
Will I Get Penalized for a Truck Accident?
All commercial truckers need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL.) Since your CDL is regulated by the Federal Government, fines and other punishments may be stricter for you than for the average person.
Additionally, you will have to undergo drug and alcohol testing soon after the crash. Bad results could get you fired on the spot. Your license may even be revoked, preventing you from continuing in the trucking industry.
Having an accident doesn’t always mean you will be fired, but keep in mind your driving history and criminal record may be checked. Further, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that each motor carrier shall conduct an annual inquiry/review of the driving record for each driver under their employ, where they’ll see any “points” on your license. If you have more than one accident on your record, it will be tough to find another truck driving job.
What if I’m Partly at Fault for the Truck Accident?
Texas is a “proportionate responsibility” state, so even if you’re found partially at fault for a truck accident, you can still recover damages. You just have to be less than 50% at fault. Reach out to a Houston truck accident lawyer for more info on how fault is determined.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim in A Fatal Houston Truck Accident?
The Texas Wrongful Death Act allows certain relatives to pursue compensation if they’ve lost a loved one in a truck accident. The surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased victim can sue for the damages and suffering associated with the loss of their loved one. They can file the claim either individually or together as a group. If no one files within three months of the date of death, a representative of the estate can file on their behalf.
What Are My Potential Damages?
The money you collect from a personal injury claim is known as your “damages.” Damages are divided into different categories.
Economic damages include things like property damage and medical bills. The exact amounts of these losses and expenses are easily proven with copies of your bills and receipts. Additionally, if you had to take time off work while recovering from your injuries, you can be compensated for your lost wages. This can be done by providing past pay stubs, timesheets, and/or a statement from your employer. If your injuries are severe enough to permanently change the course of your career, your lost earning capacity will be included in your damages as well. Sound confusing? Don’t worry; a lawyer can help you keep track of everything.
Non-economic damages refer to more abstract losses like your pain and suffering. In addition to being emotionally distressing, your Houston truck accident might cause you to miss important events, quit your hobbies, or leave you unable to support your family. PTSD symptoms like insomnia and anxiety would also be included under pain and suffering.
A third category known as punitive damages applies only in scenarios where the at-fault driver was particularly reckless. (For example, if the other driver was arrested for drunk driving at the time of the crash.) Punitive damages exist to punish the at-fault driver for bad behavior and discourage others from being negligent.
When Should I Hire A Truck Accident Lawyer?
When should you hire a Houston truck accident lawyer?
As soon as you can!
It may shock you to hear all truck accident cases have a time limit known as the statute of limitations. This differs from state to state, but the statute of limitations in Texas is two years.
Two years seems like a long time, but your team will need time to investigate and compile evidence. The countdown starts the moment your accident happens. If you don’t take action before the deadline, the case may be thrown out entirely. Protect your rights by contacting a truck accident lawyer.
Still Lost? Free Consultations Available Now
Handling a truck accident case is a full-time job. Don’t do it alone. Let an experienced Houston truck accident lawyer handle the messy details while you focus on what matters most: your health and recovery.
Since they’re well-versed in commercial trucking regulations and industry standards, truck accident lawyers can help you secure way more compensation than you ever could alone. Entering the showdown alone could mean you miss out on thousands or even millions of dollars of a truck accident settlement.
Don’t miss out on the money you need.
Get a free case evaluation from a Houston truck accident lawyer today!