Truck Accident Lawyer
Houston Truck Accident Attorneys Helping Nationwide
Schedule your free consultation with an experienced lawyer at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. if you’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler. Let us fight for your rights by calling 1-800-298-0111 today!
Large Truck Crash Statistics
Truck accidents in the United States accounted for 4,905 deaths in 2017 and 4,951 deaths in 2018 according to an NHTSA report. Additionally, the American Trucking Association reported that trucking profits rose by nearly 100 billion from 2017 to 2018 to $796.7 billion and that there are over 3.6 million heavy-duty trucks on the road competing for that revenue. That much competition and that much money at stake adds up to an 18 wheeler accident just waiting to happen. Contact a personal injury lawyer for your truck accident before you take on these giants.
Why Choose Simmons and Fletcher?
The law firm of Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., has the experience you need to fight the trucking industry’s defense team. Our attorneys have handled semi crashes ranging from bad brakes cases to side underride collisions resulting in decapitation. The consultation is free and you pay no attorney fees unless we win your truck accident.
Do I Need to Hire a Truck Accident Lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible is advised in order to ensure your rights are protected. Modern commercial trucks contain an electronic data recorder (often referred to as a ‘black box’) that contains valuable data about the truck’s motions, movements, and trips. There are also valuable maintenance and repair records, trip inspection records, logs, and other data that can provide important details and clues as to why the wreck happened. The sooner you get your lawyer and his investigation team on the job, the more likely they are to be able to preserve this information before it gets lost or destroyed. Hire a skilled attorney to stand up for you.
Understanding the Magnitude of a Truck Accident
An 18 wheeler traveling at 55 miles per hour requires about 600 feet stopping distance to bring the truck to a stop. When an object that big plows into a car it transfers a large amount of force into that vehicle and its occupants.
What Does a Truck Accident Attorney Cost?
You can hire a lawyer on a contingency fee basis with a free consultation. This means that it costs you nothing out of your pocket to talk and, if you hire us, we front all the expenses and only get them reimbursed and our attorney’s fees paid out of a settlement or judgment. In other words, you do not pay us a dime unless we obtain a settlement or judgment for you!
What Steps Should I Take After a Truck Accident?
If you have been in a wreck with an 18-wheeler or another commercial motor vehicle, here are the steps you should take immediately to protect your rights if you have been involved in an accident with a truck:
- Call the police and report the collision.
- Seek immediate medical attention – not all injuries manifest themselves immediately, so if there is any doubt you are ok, seek professional help.
- Photograph the vehicles and the scene.
- Obtain a motor vehicle crash report.
- Photograph all of your injuries.
- Call an attorney to protect your rights.
Our 18 wheeler accident attorneys are ready and able help. Call our 24-hour hotline any day, any time and you will be put in touch with an experienced truck accident attorney you can trust. The number is (800) 298-0111.
Who is Liable in a Crash With a Commercial Motor Vehicle?
Liable parties often include the driver, the trucking company, the manufacturer, the customer, and other drivers. Every case is different and must be analyzed based upon its own set of facts.
- The Driver. The other driver is the first and most obvious possibility in any motor vehicle accident, whether it involves passenger cars or big rigs. However, where commercial vehicles are involved, that analysis is more complicated. Who bears responsibility for the driver’s actions depends on a variety of factors, including whether the truck driver is an employee or an independent owner-operator.
- The Trucking Company. The trucking company may be responsible for a commercial motor vehicle accident in many possible ways. For example, if the truck driver is an employee of the company, the company may have vicarious liability—that is, the company may be responsible simply because the driver who was responsible was acting on behalf of the company. The trucking company may also be responsible if inadequate training, poor policies, failure to comply with the law, faulty maintenance of the vehicle, or other negligence created or contributed to the problem that caused the accident.
- The Vehicle Manufacturer. If a defect in the design or manufacture of the truck caused or contributed to the accident, the manufacturer, the seller, and anyone in between them in the supply chain may be liable for resulting damages. The same is true for the manufacturer, seller, and others in the supply chain for any defective part that may have contributed to the accident.
- The Customer. Commercial trucks routinely carry goods and materials throughout the state and across the country. If those goods are unreasonably dangerous or present a hazard due to improper packing, inadequate information provided to the trucking company, or other negligence, the customer may bear or share legal responsibility for the accident.
- Other Drivers. Actions of other drivers may contribute to the cause also.
In many cases, there are multiple responsible parties. Overlooking one of those parties when pursuing a truck accident claim can result in less-than-complete compensation or even an outright loss.
What Are the Duties of Truck Drivers Involved in a Collision?
Anytime a trucker is involved in an accident involving serious injury or property damage, he is obligated to stop and render aid and to stay at the scene until the police arrive unless he is injured and taken to the hospital.
What Are Common Causes of Truck Crashes?
Some of the most common causes of truck accidents include:
- Failure to maintain the brake system
- Driving with an oversized or overweight load
- Failure to monitor the weather
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving too fast for the driving conditions
- Fatigued driving
- Distracted driving
- Failure to secure a load
- Failure to properly inflate the tires
- Following too close.
Both the trucking company and the driver have duties to maintain the truck and to ensure that the driver is fit to drive a commercial motor vehicle. The real cause of a truck wreck is often not clear. This is why you must hire a qualified attorney who will investigate all of the potential causes and determine who may be liable. Below is an infographic demonstrating how a truck accident case is investigated.
What Are the Common Injuries Caused by Truck Accidents?
Common injuries from truck accidents include amputation, spine injuries, broken bones, scars, disfigurement, traumatic brain injury, severe emotional distress, ruptured spleens, and even death. A truck carrying a full load can outweigh a car tenfold. The passenger vehicle will always be on the losing end of the impact when it collides with an 18-wheeler, bus, or another large commercial motor vehicle. As a result, some of the most serious injuries we see are a result of trucks. These injuries are often catastrophic.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit After an 18-Wheeler Accident?
The Statute of Limitations to file a truck accident case varies from state-to-state and is governed by state tort law. Some states give as little as a year while others give two or three years. Thus, your truck accident statute of limitations will depend on which states you are allowed to file a lawsuit in. When a truck accident occurs, you are allowed to file your lawsuit:
- in the state where the collision occurs,
- in the state where the negligent truck driver resides,
- in the state where the trucking company is incorporated, or
- in the state where the trucking company is domiciled—the place where it primarily does business.
Each of the above places may have separate statutes of limitations. You can determine the exact statute of limitations for any state here.
There are advantages to filing in specific places, thus you should consult a lawyer about the best place to file your claim before any of the applicable statutes of limitations are at risk of passing.
How Much Insurance Do 18-Wheelers Carry?
The amount of insurance any particular 18-wheeler may carry varies widely from truck-to-truck. Some 18-wheelers are a part of larger corporations that have substantial assets and large interstate commercial motor vehicle fleets with large commercial motor vehicle policies. Others are local, independent owner-operators that carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required by law for trucks. Most states require local trucks to carry a minimum of $500,000 per occurrence. Federal law requires higher amounts for vehicles involved in interstate commerce that differ depending on what they are carrying. Normal cargo may only require $750,000 in coverage, while a truck transporting bulk hazardous cargo is required to carry at least $5,000,000. Non-bulk hazardous material transporters and buses must carry $1,000,000 if they travel across state lines. In addition to the minimum coverage required, large companies may carry an umbrella policy to protect the company’s assets from large verdicts.
If the truck that hit you was engaged in interstate trucking, you can find out how much truck insurance they reported to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from the U.S. Department of Transportation FMCSA website.
What is a Commercial Insurance Policy?
A commercial insurance policy is an insurance policy that is issued to cover many or all of the vehicles that are operated by a company’s employees for business purposes. Commercial motor vehicles are sometimes covered by commercial insurance policies. Commercial policies vary in many ways. Typically, commercial policies provide a million dollars in coverage or more for damages caused to others by the company employees in the regular course of doing business. Some policies are commercial general liability policies that specifically only cover others for damages caused by the employee. That is, if you are an employee of the company, the policy will not cover you for bodily injuries in an accident.
Some commercial insurance policies are “withering” policies. This means that the insurance limits include the cost of defending a claim. Thus. if the limits are 1 million dollars, but the defense lawyer charges $70,000.00 to defend the 18 wheeler case, then there is only $930,000.00 left in insurance proceeds to pay to the injured victims. This is important to know not only because the longer a case drags on, the more money you lose in coverage.
How is Insurance Coverage Affected if the Truck Driver is an Independent Contractor?
Coverage is not affected by a truck driver claiming to be an independent contractor. Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation, 49 C.F.R. § 390.5, a truck driver is considered an employee of the company for which he drives, regardless of what they call him. This is called being a ‘statutory employee.’
How Long Does a Lawsuit Take in an 18-Wheeler Accident Case?
A lawsuit against a truck and/or trucking company arising from a commercial vehicle wreck can take a few months or it can extend out for several years depending upon factors such as:
- the complexity of the case,
- the degree of injuries involved,
- the number of potential parties, and;
- the judge and court assigned to the case.
Who Pays the Settlement or Judgment?
Usually, the insurance company for the trucking company pays the judgment or settlement. If a judgment exceeds the insured’s policy limits, the trucking company may have to pick up the rest of the debt. Who pays a settlement or judgment on behalf of the truck driver and or trucking company may also depend upon with the truck was hauling intrastate vs interstate. Interstate truck drivers are required to carry a minimum of $750,000.00 in commercial motor vehicle insurance coverage for non-hazardous loads. Hazardous loads are required to carry 5 million in coverage. Intrastate trucks are regulated by state law. If you are in a state with low minimums, you could have no choice but to pursue the trucking company itself to pay the claim.
Learn the difference between interstate vs intrastate trucking.
Can I Sue if I am Partially at Fault for the Accident?
The answer to this question depends upon where the wreck happened, where you have a right to bring a claim, and what laws apply to those jurisdictions. If you are in Texas, we go by comparative negligence. This means that the injured victim must not be found to be over 50% at fault for the collision to be able to make a recovery. Thus, being 50% at fault or less does not bar recovery in Texas as well as other comparative negligence states. In contributory negligence states, the plaintiff cannot be any percent at fault. You should discuss the comparative/contributory negligence laws with an 18-wheeler accident attorney before filing a lawsuit if you are unsure of what laws apply.
How Are Truck Crashes Investigated by an Attorney?
Every case must be evaluated upon its own merits. How the case should be investigated is determined on a case-by-case basis. In a serious truck accident, ideally, you would want to be able to get to the scene while it is still fresh and photograph the evidence before it can disappear. You would also want to have a professional download the electronic data from the electronic data recorder or black box as it is known colloquially. This information can be very valuable in establishing the location, route, driving distance, speed, and other details that can be important to understand what led to the crash.
While the above is ideal, it can also be very expensive. The expenses themselves of this investigation are often not recoverable. Thus, your attorney must make a judgment call as to whether the expense is warranted and whether other less-expensive investigation methods may be employed. Obtaining driver’s longs, pre-trip and post-trip inspections, receipts, bills of lading, toll records, and other documents can sometimes serve the same purpose at a lower cost.
Truck Accident Investigation Infographic
Who Pays the Costs for the Investigation?
When you hire an 18 wheeler accident attorney on a contingency fee basis, usually the lawyer fronts the investigation expenses and then recoups them out of any settlement or judgment. This is how our firm works. If we are unable to make a recovery for you, then you do not have to pay us back.
Can I Get Punitive Damages Against the Trucking Company?
You may seek punitive damages in any case where the facts support it and the jurisdiction allows for punitive damages. In truck accident cases, the most common grounds for seeking an award of punitive damages include:
- drug or alcohol use on the job,
- habitual bad driving,
- excessive wrecks,
- violation of traffic safety laws,
- exceeding the maximum allowed service hours,
- negligent hiring,
- distracted driving such as cell phone use, and;
- logbook falsification.
Strict federal laws are prohibiting certain conduct like drug and alcohol use. Violations of these rules are grounds to seek punitive damages.
Who is Liable When a Truck’s Brakes Fail?
Several parties may be liable when a semi’s brakes fail, including the driver, the company, the manufacturer, and the brake shop or maintenance shop. Here is how each of them may be liable:
- The Truck Driver. The truck driver may be responsible if he/she failed to perform federally mandated pre-trip inspections of the truck, or took otherwise negligent actions involving the truck’s brakes.
- The Trucking Company. The responsible party may be the company that owns the truck if they failed to make reasonable inspections of the truck’s brakes or failed to perform reasonable maintenance on the truck. Ultimately, the trucking company is responsible for all conduct of their driver that is done while acting within the course and scope of his employment under the Doctrine of ‘Respondeat Superior’, which translates as ‘let the master answer.’
- The Truck Manufacturer. Finally, the responsible party may be the manufacturer of the truck and/or brake system if it can be shown that they produced and distributed a defective vehicle and/or defective brakes.
- The Brake Shop/Maintenance Company. If an independent company was hired to repair, replace, and/or maintain the braking system on the truck, that company may be held liable when the brakes fail due to negligence on their part.
What Are Common Causes of Truck Brake Failure?
If brake failure or brake malfunction has played a critical role in an accident, it is important to conduct a proper investigation. Some of the common issues contributing to brake failure include:
- overheating of the brakes;
- overly-worn tires;
- overly-worn brake pads/shoes;
- de-powering of the front brakes, and;
- generally inadequate truck maintenance.
De-powering of a truck’s front brakes is a practice amongst commercial truck owners and operators that can contribute to brake failure and the devastation that may result. It is believed that by de-powering the front brakes, the tires, and brakes are saved from some wear and tear, which ultimately reduces replacement costs. The truck driver relies instead on the trailer brakes and downshifting to decelerate or stop the truck. However at high speeds and/or when the unexpected inevitably happens out on our roads, the truck may be unable to stop, swerve, or otherwise avoid an accident.
What Are the Laws Regarding Truck Speeds?
Truck drivers must obey the same speed limit laws as everyone else. This not only means not speeding but also not traveling at a rate that is unsafe under the circumstances even if it is lower than the speed limit.
Because trucks weigh so much more and require greater stopping distances than passenger vehicles, they have to take into account many factors such as weather conditions, road conditions, traffic volume in deciding what is a safe speed under the circumstances. A truck may be traveling under the speed limit but still be ticketed for traveling at an unsafe speed under the circumstances.
Are Truck Drivers Liable for Hitting People in Their Blind Spot?
Truck drivers and trucking companies have an obligation to the public to be aware of these blind spots. After all, they are driving the trucks on public roadways for a living. Failure to recognize and check any of these four blind spots can result in an accident that could have been prevented.
What Are Truck Blind Spots?
The four blind spots of 18 wheelers are:
- directly behind the trailer,
- directly in front of the nose of the truck,
- to the left rear of the truck cab, and;
- to the right side and rear of the truck cab.
Most blind spot truck accidents can be prevented by the truck driver having the required mirrors and taking the time to do a thorough check before changing lanes.
What Mirrors Must Commercial Motor Vehicles Have?
Federal law via the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) sets the mirror requirements for interstate trucks–which in turn, sets the industry standard for all commercial motor vehicles. Under FMCSR 25.15:
- Every bus, truck, and truck-tractor shall be equipped with two rear-vision mirrors, one at each side, firmly attached to the outside of the motor vehicle, and so located as to reflect a view of 200 feet to the rear, along both sides of the vehicle.
- Only one outside mirror shall be required, which shall be on the driver’s side, on trucks that are so constructed that the driver has a view to the rear using an interior mirror.
What Causes 18-Wheeler Tires to Blow Out?
The weight of the loads that 18-wheelers carry combined with the many miles that they travel over the hot pavement contribute to the wear and tear on the tires. Eventually, those tires may fail. This is why they have so many tires—so that if one fails they can still control their vehicle.
While losing one of the eighteen tires may not have much effect on the truck or trailer, shrapnel from an exploding tire can cause nearby passenger cars to have to make sudden swerving movements to avoid the debris. The explosion noise alone can startle a passing motorist.
Are 18-Wheeler Drivers Liable When a Tire Blowout Cases a Collision?
A truck driver and or his company may be liable when a tire explodes and causes a wreck if the truck driver and/or his employer knew or should have known the tire was a dangerous condition. Truck drivers are required to conduct pre-trip and post-trip inspections to evaluate whether the truck, including the tires, needs repair. A truck accident lawyer can force the production of driver and maintenance logs after filing a lawsuit.
Are Truck Drivers Liable When a Tire Falls Off the Truck?
A truck driver, his company, and any maintenance company responsible for installing the tire may be liable when a tire simply falls off a truck. If the tire was put on recently, then this is an indication someone did not tighten the lug nuts properly. If not, then one must question why the truck driver did not detect a problem with the tire during the pre-trip inspection. Failure to conduct a pre-trip inspection can be grounds for a negligence finding.
What is Truck Jackknifing?
A truck Jackknifes when the trailer being towed by the tractor (cab) swings around into a 45-degree (or more) angle with the cab causing the driver to lose control of the truck. Jackknife truck accidents typically occur when the rear wheels lose traction and go into a slide. This loss of traction can be the result of several things.
What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?
The most common causes of a truck jackknife accident include:
- Slick road conditions from ice or water
- Sudden braking by the driver
- Equipment failure
- Failure to maintain the tires.
Many times, several of the above factors will combine to cause a jackknife truck accident.
Driving in Unsafe Road Conditions Increases the Risk of a Truck Jackknife
18-wheelers are large vehicles that require a longer stopping distance than most other vehicles—even when they are not loaded. When the road is wet, it becomes very difficult to stop if the driver has not left plenty of space between his vehicle and the vehicle ahead of him. Empty trailers are even more likely to slide than loaded trailers on wet or icy roads. However, when a truck driver chooses to operate in slick or wet conditions knowing that his vehicle will be harder to stop and that jackknifing is more likely, he has the same obligation as every other driver to maintain a safe stopping distance. Thus, he must account for the fact that he will have a loss of traction and plan accordingly. Failure to do so can result in an accident that he could have prevented.
Sudden or Improper Braking
Slamming on the brakes is sometimes necessary. However, if it is not done properly or at a safe time, it can result in a serious accident. When a driver stops quickly and starts to slide, he has three braking options:
- Lock the steering axle brakes–which causes the semi to continue moving forward until it stops,
- lock the trailer axles–which results in the driver losing control of the direction of the skid altogether, or;
- lock up the drive axles—which commonly results in a jackknife situation.
Every drive must recognize when it is and is not safe to apply any of the brakes. Furthermore, the driver needs to make sure he maintains a safe enough following distance so that he has time to brake.
While equipment may fail due to a manufacturing defect, it is more commonly the failure to maintain the equipment that results in equipment failure. Every trucking company and every truck driver shares a duty to make sure that the trucks they operate on the roads are maintained in good safe working order. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that the truck and tires be inspected before and after every trip in a pre-trip and post-trip inspection. Any deficiencies must be repaired timely. Brake failure of any of the steering axle, trailer axles, or drive axles can result in an imbalance in the way brakes are applied and thereby cause a jackknifing incident. Additionally, defective or worn tires can cause the loss of traction that results in a jackknifing trailer. Thus, proper inspections and maintenance of the truck must be performed timely to prevent accidents.
What is a Rollover Accident?
A rollover accident occurs when the truck falls over onto its side. These accidents are particularly dangerous in that the truck may land on other vehicles or pedestrians or land across the road creating a major road hazard.
What Trucks Are Most Likely to Rollover or Jackknife?
Tanker trucks are more susceptible to jackknife and rollover accidents. Part of the additional training that is required for tanker truck drivers is roller over prevention by better understanding the trucks design, load shifting tendencies as well as highway and driving factors. Actions that can contribute to rollovers and jackknifes include:
- Failing to maintain a single lane of traffic.
- Driving too fast on wet or icy roads.
- Operating a truck while drowsy.
- Making unnecessary sudden movements.
- The sudden application of the brakes.
- Over-correcting after allowing wheels to leave the roadway surface.
Most tanker truck roll-overs occur on straight highways due to overcorrection or sudden wheel movement. Only a small percentage occurs on exit ramps.
Are There Restrictions on How Long an 18-Wheeler Driver Can Drive?
Federal law limits the hours a truck driver may operate an 18-wheeler to help prevent driver fatigue. A truck driver hauling a load has the following restrictions:
- They may only drive a maximum of 11 hours total after having taken 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- They may not drive beyond the 14th hour after having been off-duty 10 consecutive hours.
- They may drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes. (This is a mandatory break that applies unless certain exceptions apply.)
- They may not drive for more than 60 hours in one week or 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days.
- Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must spend at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
What Licenses Are Required for Truck Drivers?
To operate a commercial motor vehicle, the driver is required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). No truck driver should be behind the wheel without a valid license. Any company or person who entrusts a person with a truck without checking that the person has a valid CDL is a potentially liable defendant when that person causes a collision.
Do You Need a Special License to Drive a Tanker Truck?
In addition to the standard Commercial Drivers License required for truck drivers, tanker truck drivers must also obtain a tanker endorsement. This requirement applies not only to traditional tankers but also other types of trucks operating like tankers such as flatbeds, dry vans, box trucks, and refrigerated trucks if:
- The cargo includes liquid or gaseous individual containers larger than 119-gallon capacity.
- The containers are loaded, not empty.
- The total combined volume in the containers 1,000 gallons.
Must a Truck Driver Have a Hazmat Endorsement?
If the truck driver plans to haul certain materials regulated by State and Federal government at hazardous materials, then he/she must also obtain a Hazmat Endorsement on his/her CDL. Those materials include several enumerated materials and substances that include many toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, explosives, flammables, combustibles, and other dangerous solids, liquids, and gasses.
How Do I Report an Unsafe Truck Driver?
If you are on the road and observe a truck driver operating an 18-wheeler in an unsafe or erratic manner, you should do the following:
- Pull off the road where it is safe to do so;
- Call 911 and report the truck’s actions to the local authorities;
- Report the truck to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after you reach your destination.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) is the national body that governs trucks involved in interstate trucking vs intrastate trucking. It is part of the Department of Transportation. To make it easy for you to report an unsafe driver, they have created a toll-free hotline that you can call: 1-888-DOT-SAFT 9#68-7238). This number is manned Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm eastern standard time. You can also file a report online so long as the event you are reporting occurred within the past 60 days. If you would prefer to file a report in person, you may visit your state’s local and field offices during normal business hours to file a complaint. Contact one of our truck accident lawyers in Houston, Tx. if you have additional questions.
What Happens When I File a Complaint?
The Department of Transportation maintains a database of all of the consumer complaints against operators of commercial motor vehicles. When you file a complaint by either calling in or submitting an online report, the complaint is stored in the database for future reference. The database also allows for anonymous reporting by truck drivers and other employees of trucking companies that commit habitual violations or ask their employees to do so.
These reports may also be filed by following the “file a report online” instructions above. The importance of this database is that it allows the Department of Transportation to monitor trucking companies and the drivers they employ to identify and put a stop to those that are habitual violators of the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations. It also enables 18-wheeler accident lawyers to identify habitual violators. By reporting unsafe drivers, you could be helping to prevent repeat violators from getting back out on the road and hurting someone else.
The longer you wait, the more this evidence that may disappear. Call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., for a free consultation with a truck accident attorney about your case at 1-800-298-0111.
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