Commercial trucks, often referred to as 18-wheelers, tractor trailers, or semi-trucks, are the backbone of our interstate commerce on Houston, TX roads. Although vital to our state and national economy, given the number of these commercial 18-wheeler trucks on the road, commercial trucking accidents are commonplace not only in Houston, TX, but all across the country.
There are many factors which can cause a 18-wheeler truck accident in Houston, including distracted driving, driver fatigue, failure to operate the truck in accordance with traffic regulations, or even a failure to properly maintain the truck. Often, there is no one single cause of a commercial trucking accident, as many of these factors compound on one another to cause an accident.
Any vehicle accident can cause significant injuries; however, given the sheer size and weight, when there is an accident involving a 18-wheeler truck, the injuries sustained can be catastrophic. These injuries not only include physical injuries, but can also include emotional and psychological injuries following a truck accident. If you were in a truck accident in the Houston area, please contact a Houston truck accident attorney at our law firm today.
18-Wheeler Truck Accident Attorney
After an accident, it is always important to seek medical attention, even if the physical injuries sustained are not immediately felt. Thereafter, it is important to contact an 18-wheeler accident attorney to assist you in understanding the causes of the accident, as well as the full extent of your medical condition.
Commercial trucks and their drivers are highly regulated by state and federal law. In understanding these complex laws and regulations, you can better understand the actual cause of the accident, thereby allowing you to seek justice against the party or parties responsible for the accident and your injuries. If your truck accident happened in Houston, our expert Houston truck accident attorneys understand the complex Texas state laws.
Causes of 18-Wheeler Truck Accidents
As previously stated, there is rarely just one cause of a trucking accident, and often many factors combine to cause an accident. To better understand large commercial truck accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) conducted a nation-wide Large Truck Crash Causation Study to better understand the causes of serious crashes involving large trucks.
This study identified 10 critical issues related to large truck and big rig safety:
Issue 1: Problem Identification
Issue 2: Driver Fatigue and Hours of Service
Issue 3: Vehicle Maintenance and Inspections
Issue 4: Relative Roles of Cars and Large Trucks
Issue 5: Driver Working Environment
Issue 6: Role of Environmental Factors
Issue 7: Truck Driver Performance
Issue 8: Vehicle Design and Load
Issue 9: Truck Diver Licensing and Monitoring
Issue 10: Truck Driver Training and Experience
This federal study focused on areas which are specifically governed and regulated by the FMCSA and is critical in understanding commercial trucking accidents, as the study model used did not take into account who was at fault and understood the lack of a single cause of the crash.
In reviewing the data collected, driver-related issues accounted for 87% of all 18-wheeler truck accidents examined. Of the driver-related issues identified, driver decision, driver recognition, and driver non-performance were the leading factors. The remaining 13% of accidents were vehicle factors, which represented 10% of all accidents, and environmental factors, which accounted for the remaining 3% of accidents.
Causing an estimated 38% of all trucking accidents, driver decision was the leading driver-related cause of accidents. This study identified driver decision as situations where the truck driver was speeding, following other vehicles too closely, failing to brake appropriately, or misjudging the distance between the truck and other objects, including other cars.
The second most common driver-related cause of truck accidents is driver recognition. While a misnomer, driver recognition can be better understood as distracted driving or driver inattention. The FMCSA study found that 28% of trucking accidents were caused by distracted or inattentive drivers.
While still significant, driver non-performance accounted for 12% of all driver-related trucking accidents. Driver non-performance is a broad category of events which physically inhibits a driver from safely operating the rig, including health related incidents.
In an effort to curb trucking accidents and to ensure the safety of all drivers, the federal government regulates the commercial trucking industry. These regulations set a safety threshold all commercial trucks and drivers must meet to operate. Established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—an agency within the United States Department of Transportation— these federal regulations set a uniform minimum safety standard. Despite federal and state regulations setting forth minimum safety standards for larger commercial vehicles and trucks, many owners and operators fail to ensure their trucks are safe enough to be on the road, as well as fail to meet the applicable federal safety standards.
What is the standard?
Both state and federal law govern and set the minimum safety standards required of interstate and intrastate carriers. These minimum standards are codified under federal law as the Motor Carrier Act which requires, in part, that “[e]very commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated. However, if a regulation of the Federal Highway Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance or regulation, the Federal Highway Administration regulation must be complied with.” 49 C.F.R § 392.2. The safety standards require commercial trucks to be properly maintained to ensure public safety.
What is failure to maintain?
Failure to maintain, in the context of a commercial trucking accident, is the owner or operator’s failure to maintain their trucks and trailers in accordance with federal, state, and local safety standards, as required under the Motor Carrier Act. Generally speaking, failure to maintain claims manifest themselves in three major ways: failure to maintain brakes, failure to maintain tires, and failure to maintain trailers. While this is not an exhaustive list of ways in which an owner or operator could fail to maintain their truck or trailer, these are three of the most common ways in which owners and operators negligently operate their trucks.
- Failure to maintain brakes: The same study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration discussed above also found that faulty brakes contributed to 29% of large truck accidents. A truck’s owner or operator’s failure to properly maintain the truck’s brakes can affect the driver’s ability to stop and safely operate the truck—putting those sharing the road at grave risk. When an 18-wheeler’s brakes fail, especially given the weight of the truck and trailer, a catastrophic accident can occur, causing great injuries to other drivers.
- Failure to maintain tires: Whether you live in a big city or small town, hearing of a truck tire blowout is almost a daily event. A tire blowout, unlike a flat tire, is when there is a sudden and unexpected burst or rupture of the truck’s tire, usually when the truck is moving at a high rate of speed. When a tire blowout happens, the driver can lose control of the truck, causing him or her to hit nearby vehicles, or even cause the truck to rollover. Unfortunately, tire blowouts are generally caused by a failure to regularly and properly inspect the truck’s tires, and failure to repair or replace tires when needed. These failures to properly maintain the truck’s tires are in violation of the Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations and guidelines.
- Failure to maintain trailers: Semi-trucks are required by federal law to ensure that their trailers are safely secured and properly aligned when hooked-up. Often, drivers are in a hurry to either pick-up or deliver their cargo, causing them to fail to ensure the trailer is properly aligned. A malalignment of the trailer causes unnecessary and increased pressure on the truck’s tires, which affects a driver’s ability to fully and properly control the truck. Additionally, malalignment can also cause uneven and dangerous tire wear, which as discussed above, can cause a tire blowout.
Minimum Insurance Requirements
In addition to minimum safety standards, federal law also requires interstate commercial trucks to carry minimum liability insurance. Federal minimum insuring requirements vary depending on the size of the commercial vehicle and the freight being hauled. For example commercial tucks weighing over 10,001 pounds carrying non-hazardous materials must carry at least $750,000.00 in liability insurance. By comparison, a truck of the same weight which carries hazardous materials must obtain at least $5,000,000.00 in liability insurance.
If, however, a commercial truck is only traveling within the State of Texas, known as intrastate commerce, the insurance requirements differ and are set by the Texas Department of Insurance. If a commercial vehicle in Texas is only carrying household goods, the vehicle must carry at least $300,000.00 in liability insurance. If the commercial vehicle is carrying general goods (i.e. – goods other than household goods), then the vehicle must have at least $500,000.00 in liability coverage.
Differences between a Car Accident and a Trucking Accident
While at first blush, a car accident and a commercial trucking accident may appear similar, to the trained eye, however, the two are very different. These differences can manifest themselves in a number of different ways including the severity of the injuries stained, establishing liability, and prosecution of the claims.
Bigger Truck means Bigger Injury
While the average passenger vehicle can weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds, a commercial truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds or more. Because the smaller vehicle involved in the accident frequently takes the brunt of the force, the damage to the passenger vehicle can be significant, and the injuries sustained catastrophic.
While every accident and every human body is different, there are a number of injuries which are common in a trucking accident. These injuries include traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, amputations, spinal cord injuries, and internal injuries. In the most severe and tragic accidents, deaths can occur. Sadly, since November 7, 2000, at least one person has died on a Texas road every day, causing Texas to lead the nation in traffic related deaths.
In a normal car accident, establishing liability or legal responsibility for an accident is relatively straightforward: the person who hit you is responsible for paying for the damage to your car, as well as your personal injuries. In the context of a commercial truck accident, however, there may be several people or companies responsible for your injuries.
Depending on the cause of the accident, parties who could be held liable for your injuries could include the driver, the trucking company, the truck manufacturer, or even the city or state if the roads were not properly maintained. Given the complexities of federal and state law in these areas, establishing liability is often complex and multi-layered—especially when compared to a car accident.
Prosecuting a Trucking Accident vs. Car Accident
Unlike a car accident, trucking accidents often involve federal law and regulations. By having to abide by federal laws relating to the driver of the commercial truck, as well as maintenance to the truck, most trucking accidents require discernment as to the applicable law, federal, state, or both, as well a detailed analysis as to who is responsible for each aspect of the alleged wrongdoing. This can lead to a lawsuit involving multiple defendants and theories of recovery being brought in the same action.
Compensation Available as a Result of a Commercial Vehicle Accident
Texas is known as a “fault” state, meaning if a driver is found to have caused an accident, they are required to pay for the resulting injury or damages. Even if you believe that you may have been partially at fault for the accident, it is still important to fully explore the legal options available to you. As it relates to recovery for personal injury damages resulting from a commercial trucking accident, Texas law applies a modified comparative fault rule. This means that at the end of your trial, the jury will be asked to answer two questions: 1) the total dollar amount of your injuries; and 2) the percentage of fault for the parties involved. As long as a jury does not find you more than 50% at-fault for the accident, you will be able to recover for your injuries.
While insurance coverage may be available to make a claim against, often the insurance company will either improperly refuse to pay your claims or attempt to get you to sign away your rights for minimal compensation. At that time, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit in a Texas civil court. Once a lawsuit is filed, experts will be utilized to demonstrate to the jury the extent and amount of your personal injury and property damages. During the suit, you can make a claim for past and future lost wages, past and future medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. The total amount or “value” of the claim is case dependent, and will be testified to by a qualified expert and ultimately determined by the jury.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Commercial Trucking Accident
After an accident, your focus should be on healing from your injuries. Instead, after a 18-wheeler accident, you will likely find yourself bombarded by insurance adjusters who want to get recorded statements from you, as well as attempt to get you to sign releases.
The insurance claim process, as well as federal law and Texas law governing trucking accidents, is complex. Insurance companies have a financial interest in either denying claims or underpaying claims—all while convincing you they have your best interests at heart. One common tactic used by insurance companies is to offer a lump-sum payment shortly after the accident. The hope is that you will choose to accept this amount and sign away your rights before you can fully understand the extent of your personal injuries and property damage.
Before you accept a settlement offer or sign any documents received from any insurance company, it is in your best interest to consult with personal injury lawyer with experience in commercial trucking accidents. In doing so, you can better understand the relevant state and federal laws pertaining to your accident, as well as help you understand the full extent of your injuries. Our Houston truck accident attorneys will help guide you in making the right decision.
How Long Does a Commercial Trucking Lawsuit Take?
Once you have made the decision to hire a personal injury attorney for a trucking accident, the process of investigating your claim begins. Whether it be consulting with medical experts, accident reconstruction experts, or mechanical engineering experts, a thorough investigation into the accident and your injuries will be performed. During this time, the insurance company may reach out in an effort to settle the claim. If a pre-suit settlement is unable to be reached, however, the claim will then move to the civil justice system.
Lawsuits vary in duration. In most circumstances, courts will issue docket control orders or scheduling orders which set your matter for trial and set the relevant deadlines governing your case. In total, depending on the county in which your lawsuit is filed in Texas, the process can range from 18 to 24 months. While this may seem like a long time and you may know somebody who hired a lawyer who got a quicker settlement, it is imperative to avoid law firms that do not fully investigate your claims.
While unsavory, some trucking accident law firms operate as a volume practice, meaning they focus on obtaining a large number of settlements rather than quality settlements for their clients. These law firms may quickly obtain a settlement for their clients, but they often leave “money on the table” by not wanting to file the lawsuit and trying the case to a jury.
How much does it Cost to Hire a Houston Truck Accident Lawyer?
Most personal injury attorneys in Houston who handle commercial trucking cases do not require clients to pay any up-front attorney’s fees or case expenses, nor do most attorneys require their clients to pay if there is no recovery. This is known as a contingency fee agreement. Under a contingency fee agreement, one does not pay any hourly rate or set fee for the time their attorney works on their case. Instead, in the event of a recovery, the attorney receives a percentage of the amount recovered on your behalf. Our Houston truck accident lawyers operate in this way as well.
Benefits of Hiring Daniel & Associates to Handle Your Car Accident Claim
Not only is making the decision to hire a lawyer a difficult one, finding the right car accident lawyer for you is also difficult. Given the length of time a commercial trucking accident claim can take, it is important to hire a truck accident lawyer and law firm who understands your situation and treats you with respect and compassion. Additionally, it is important to find a truck accident lawyer who you can have an open line of communication with.
Why Choose a Houston Truck Accident Attorney at Patrick Daniel Law?
The truck accident attorneys at our Houston law firm, Daniel & Associates, devote their entire practice to representing those who have been injured as a result of another’s negligence. Using their years of experience and knowledge of the law, our Houston truck accident attorneys provide detail-oriented and aggressive representation for their clients. In doing so, our clients can rest assured that their claim is being given the time and attention necessary so they can focus on recovering from their injuries.
Additionally, Daniel & Associates believes in creating a sense of community with our clients, and a large part of that is communication. During the process of filing your claim, we will be in contact with you to update you on your claim, as well as check-in on your recovery. The process of filing a claim or a lawsuit as a result of a commercial trucking accident is a collaborative process between the client and the attorney, and our firm strives to build a relationship of mutual trust and understanding.
Please contact us at 713-999-6666 and let us know how we can help you, or send us your case information for a free evaluation here.