Every day, commercial trucks share Texas roads and highways with passenger vehicles. While most of them arrive safely at their destination, accidents are still alarmingly common. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 612 fatal crashes in the state in 2022, along with 1,643 accidents involving severe injuries.
When an accident occurs, one of the biggest questions involves liability. Who is responsible for paying damages? Is it the truck driver behind the wheel, or does the trucking company that employs them share the liability? In this blog, the experienced truck accident lawyers at Villarreal & Begum, LAW GUNS, explain the factors that determine whether the truck driver or the trucking company is legally liable for the accident.
Understanding Liability in Truck Accidents
Liability is the legal responsibility for actions or omissions that result in harm. With truck accidents, determining liability involves identifying whether the commercial truck driver, the trucking company, or both should be held accountable for your injuries and losses.
There are two primary forms of liability in truck crash cases:
- Direct Liability: This pertains to the actions or negligence that directly caused the accident. For instance, if a truck driver was speeding and caused a collision, they may be directly liable for the damages resulting from their actions.
- Vicarious Liability: Also known as “respondeat superior,” vicarious liability holds an employer, such as a trucking company, responsible for the actions of its employees. If a truck driver causes an accident while performing job-related duties, the trucking company may share in the liability due to its role as the employer.
Understanding the distinction between direct and vicarious liability is crucial, as it can significantly impact how compensation claims are pursued and resolved.
When is the Truck Driver Liable?
While drivers operating within the scope of their employment may not always bear direct financial liability, there are scenarios where they can be held responsible for damages resulting from a truck crash.
- Driver Negligence: If a truck driver’s negligence directly contributes to a car accident, they can be held legally responsible. Examples of negligent actions include careless driving, excessive speeding, or disregarding traffic laws.
- Drunk Driving: A truck driver operating a commercial vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol poses a significant danger to themselves and others on the road. If it can be proven that impairment contributed to the accident, the driver can be held liable for their reckless actions.
- Distracted Driving: Activities like texting, talking on the phone, or using in-cab devices divert a driver’s attention from the road. A truck driver may be held responsible for an accident caused by such distractions.
- Personal Use of the Truck: If a negligent truck driver is using the truck for personal reasons at the time of the accident, they might be held liable because they are acting outside the scope of their employment.
- Independent Contractor Status: If a truck driver is an independent contractor and not a formal employee of the trucking company, they might carry their own insurance. In such cases, they could potentially be held financially responsible for damages.
- Owner/Operator Status: If a truck driver is also the owner/operator of the truck, the lines between their personal and professional roles can blur. In such cases, both the driver and the trucking company may share liability.
While trucking companies often assume liability, it’s crucial to recognize that truck drivers can indeed be held accountable under certain circumstances. Each case is unique, and a truck accident attorney can help you understand the nuances involved in determining driver responsibility after a trucking accident.
When is the Trucking Company Liable?
Trucking companies shoulder a significant responsibility in maintaining safe and compliant operations. If one of their drivers is involved in an accident, the extent to which they comply with state and federal regulations can play a pivotal role in determining liability. Below are some situations that can render a trucking company liable for an accident:
- Poor Truck Maintenance: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates that trucking companies keep their vehicles in roadworthy condition. Tire blowouts, malfunctioning brakes, and impaired visibility due to faulty windows, mirrors, or lights can all lead to collisions. Trucking companies can be held liable for accidents caused by preventable mechanical breakdowns.
- Hours of Service (HOS) Violations: The FMCSA enforces Hours of Service (HOS) regulations to prevent driver fatigue. Violations like excessive driving hours or failing to provide adequate breaks can lead to fatigued driving and increase the risk of accidents. Companies encouraging HOS violations or manipulating electronic logbooks to bypass regulations may be liable for damages caused by drowsy drivers.
- Negligent Hiring: Hiring drivers without proper Commercial Drivers’ Licenses (CDLs), neglecting background checks, or employing those with poor safety records are examples of negligent practices that could result in liability for accidents caused by their drivers.
- Cargo-Related Issues: Trucking companies must ensure their employees are well-trained and follow FMCSA regulations on loading and securing cargo. Failure to train cargo loaders or negligence in securing shipments can lead to accidents due to load spillage. In such cases, the trucking company could be held liable for the resulting damages.
Trucking companies play a critical role in promoting road safety. Failure to fulfill their obligations may lead to accidents that could have been prevented. A Texas truck accident lawyer can help you determine whether the company was responsible for your accident and hold it accountable for your financial compensation.
Investigating and Establishing Liability in Texas Truck Accidents
Determining who is at fault involves a careful analysis of the circumstances as well as evidence collection and even professional input. Here’s a look at how liability is investigated and established in Texas truck accidents:
- Accident Reports: Official accident reports filed by law enforcement officers provide crucial initial information about the accident. These police reports detail factors like road conditions, weather, traffic signals, and potential violations committed by the responsible party.
- Driver Logs: Truck drivers are required to maintain logs of their driving hours, rest breaks, and other activities. These logs can help establish if a driver exceeded their allowed driving hours, contributing to driver fatigue and the accident.
- Maintenance Records: Trucking companies are obligated to keep maintenance records for their vehicles. These records provide insights into the maintenance history of the truck, helping determine if a mechanical failure played a role in the accident.
- Eyewitnesses: Statements from individuals who witnessed the accident can provide invaluable firsthand accounts. Eyewitness testimonies can corroborate your story or challenge the version of events provided by the negligent party.
- Expert Testimony: Experts in various fields, such as accident reconstructionists, trucking industry professionals, and medical experts, can offer unbiased opinions on the cause and the parties involved. Their testimony can help interpret complex technical aspects for the court.
Investigating Texas truck accidents and establishing liability requires attention to detail and expertise. An experienced personal injury lawyer has the qualifications and resources to safeguard the rights of victims and facilitate a fair resolution.
How Can a Texas Truck Accident Lawyer Help?
Truck accident cases involve a specific set of laws that govern the trucking industry. A personal injury attorney possesses in-depth knowledge of both state and federal trucking regulations, enabling them to identify violations that may have contributed to the accident. Other advantages of hiring legal representation include:
- Thorough Evidence Collection: An experienced attorney can help gather and preserve crucial evidence such as accident reports, driver logs, maintenance logs, witness statements, and other documentation that can strengthen your case. They understand which evidence is most relevant and how to obtain it effectively.
- Accident Reconstruction: Lawyers often work with accident reconstruction experts to recreate the accident’s sequence of events. This reconstruction can provide a clear visual representation of how the accident occurred and who was at fault.
- Determination of Liability: By thoroughly investigating the accident, a lawyer can determine whether the truck driver, trucking company, or other parties are liable for your injuries. They consider factors like negligence, HOS violations, poor maintenance, and more to build a compelling case.
- Negotiation with Insurers: Insurance companies often try to settle personal injury claims quickly and for minimal amounts. An experienced attorney can skillfully negotiate with insurance adjusters to ensure you’re offered a fair and just settlement that covers your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
- Filing Truck Accident Lawsuits: If necessary, a lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf against the liable parties. They’ll handle the legal paperwork, deadlines, and court proceedings, allowing you to focus on your recovery.
Many truck accident lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they successfully recover compensation for you. This ensures that your legal counsel is motivated to achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
Speak to a Texas Truck Accident Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one has been involved in a Texas truck accident, determining liability and seeking fair compensation can be overwhelming. At the Villarreal & Begum, LAW GUNS, we understand the challenges you’re facing and are here to provide the legal support you need during this difficult time. Our legal team will investigate the details of your case, collect vital evidence, and build a strong argument for the fair compensation you deserve. To schedule a free initial consultation, call (210) 800-0000 or contact us online today.
Alex has tried over 50 trials to verdict and tried or settled over five hundred million dollars in cases. Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Villareal & Begum Law Firm. Born and raised in Texas.