Liability for Trucking Accidents

In the case of serious injuries sustained in a 18-wheeler truck accident, liability refers to bearing the responsibility of compensating injured parties for their losses.

Many factors go into determining liability for injuries and damages sustained in an accident involving a commercial truck. When a lawsuit is filed, multiple parties may be involved, including the truck driver, trucking company, and other third parties — that may include parties that weren’t present at the scene of your collision.

If a party causes harm to come to another individual through negligence or malice, that party may hold full liability for the accident, or may share responsibility and therefore damages with another party, such as the truck driver. When you file a personal injury lawsuit, it’s important to make sure that all of the proper parties are identified and included. That makes it critical to evaluate who all of the potentially liable parties may be early in the process.

Liability can be a complex legal question requiring the help of a team of skilled Houston truck accident attorneys to unravel. In a trucking accident, multiple state and federal laws may overlap to determine which parties bear responsibility for compensating you for your injuries and other damages.

Laws Governing Truck Accidents

The commercial trucking industry is governed by laws and rules made and enforced by a variety of governmental bodies. This obviously includes Texas state laws that govern transportation and traffic rules. It also includes federal laws and regulations when trucks operate on interstate highways or are involved in interstate commerce.

These state and federal laws work together to establish rules for operation and maintenance that trucking companies, owners, and drivers must meet. The specific laws that apply to your case may play a role in determining who bears responsibility for compensating you.

The majority of federal laws governing the trucking industry are found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Other agencies that make rules related to commercial trucking include:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  • The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT)

The Roles of Plaintiffs and Defendants

There is a lot of activity in a lawsuit prior to when a jury renders a decision about liability and payment of damages. That process includes investigation of the accident, the process of fact-finding and trading evidence known as discovery, and a variety of motions aimed at settling certain legal or factual issues before a case goes to trial. Once all of the defendants in a Texas truck accident case have been named, the plaintiff must establish a theory of liability.

With the exception of cases involving defective products or mechanical failures, the plaintiff’s theory in a trucking accident is usually based on negligence. When this charge is leveled at a truck driver, liability is usually determined by investigating the accident, interviewing witnesses, and reconstructing the accident with experts in the field.

Liability becomes even more complicated when other parties are involved. For example, if a trucking company knowingly hired a driver with substance abuse problems or multiple previous accidents on his or her driving record, the trucking company may also be liable for negligently hiring or retaining the driver. Some other common ways that a trucking company may be negligent, and, therefore, liable for your injuries, include:

  • Failing to regularly inspect and perform maintenance on trucks
  • Failing to properly train drivers
  • Failing to ensure that drivers comply with regulations limiting driving hours
  • Failing to comply with federal or Texas safety regulations
  • Being vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee driver

Once liability has been proven, the plaintiff must demonstrate the extent of his or her injuries. This generally involves the testimony of expert witnesses. A physician will offer a medical opinion that articulates the harm the victim suffered in a trucking accident. The plaintiff’s attorneys will also often hire an economist or life care planner to offer expert opinions on damages centered around the loss of earning capacity, both in the past and future, and reasonably predictable medical care needs in the future.

Can Trucking Companies Avoid Liability?

There have been a number of truck accident cases in which trucking companies have tried to avoid liability by creating a perceived distance between themselves and the driver, the vehicle, or other equipment.

In these types of cases, the professional trucking company has obtained the necessary permits to operate the truck. However, for purposes of “ownership,” the company is leasing or renting the equipment, tractors, and trailers from an “owner/operator.” Instead of employing the drivers, the trucking company hires them as independent contractors.

The trucking company then gives the owner/operator a placard with the name and permit numbers of the trucking company, which makes it look like the truck is owned by the professional trucking company and the driver is an employee. In previous years, the trucking company would argue that it was not responsible for driver error because the driver wasn’t an employee, and does not own the equipment, so the company wasn’t responsible for maintenance.

Fortunately, federal law ended this illogical argument. Under current federal laws, a trucking company is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that has its name displayed on the vehicle, regardless of the driver’s employment status.

Aggressive, Knowledgeable Legal Advocacy That Works

The Houston personal injury attorneys at The Krist Law Firm, P.C., are intimately familiar with truck accidents and know how challenging it can be to prove liability in trucking accident lawsuits, especially with multiple parties involved. On a regular basis, we engage in complex legal cases in which proving liability on the part of a driver, commercial trucking company, or manufacturer may be difficult.

However, our decades of experience with commercial trucking accidents lawsuits gives us an understanding of how to investigate this type of case and how to build the strongest possible argument for compensation. We have a successful history of obtaining maximum compensation for our clients — including the largest verdict in a commercial truck accident case in Texas in 2014.

Find out more about how our Houston personal injury lawyers can help you to obtain the compensation you deserve after being injured in a catastrophic accident by calling us at . We offer a free consultation and there are no fees unless we win your case.