In Texas, a truck accident lawsuit is a process of obtaining compensation from the at-fault party whose negligence led to the victim's injuries. The steps involved in making a truck accident claim in Texas include:
Hiring a qualified truck accident attorney: This is the first step to take when filing a truck accident case. It is advisable to hire an experienced truck accident lawyer who understands the complex laws of Texas in relation to truck accident claims. Such a lawyer must have a track record of representing truck collision victims and negotiating favorable settlements in truck accident lawsuits.
Investigation and gathering of evidence: A truck accident attorney immediately begins investigations upon being hired. It is important for the victim of a truck accident to have strong evidence to increase their chances of winning the case. A competent truck accident attorney knows what evidence to collect to prove the victim's case. In gathering evidence, the attorney would most likely visit and photograph the truck crash scene, obtain medical records and police reports, collect eyewitness testimonies and the victim's statements, and may even employ expert witnesses such as accident reconstructionists. A truck accident lawyer may also visit insurance adjusters, negotiate with the truck company's legal and insurance representatives and collect camera footage of the accident site. Gathering evidence in a truck accident claim is important in establishing the driver's liability and the victim's damages. It is therefore advisable to start collecting evidence as soon as possible to prevent the evidence from wearing off.
Sending the Personal Injury Demand Letter: After investigation and gathering of evidence, the truck accident lawyer then proceeds to draft a personal injury demand letter to request compensation. The demand letter is usually sent to the insurance company of the party responsible for causing the victim's injuries. In the letter, the victim demands a specific monetary amount in return for resolving the case out of court.
Settlement Negotiations: In Texas, most truck accident cases are usually settled out of court. Settlement negotiations are done between the victim and the insurance company of the at-fault party. During this stage, the insurance company offers an amount to the victim in exchange for the victim withdrawing the truck accident lawsuit. An experienced truck accident lawyer will usually negotiate a settlement amount favorable to the victim. Once the insurance company of the at-fault party accepts the victim's demands, the settlement will proceed outside the courtroom.
Trial: The case goes to court if the parties involved in a truck accident claim fail to reach a settlement. This is usually when the services of an experienced truck accident lawyer can help the victim's case. A truck accident lawyer with years of trial experience can explain the victim's claim in ways the judge or jury can easily understand. It is important to note that a truck accident lawsuit may be filed in a Texas state or federal court. Once the trial begins, the discovery process also begins, which involves the exchange of legal documents between the parties, as well as the taking of depositions outside the courtroom. Upon examining the evidence and reviewing the facts of the case, a judge or jury determines the final outcome of the truck accident claim and the damages to be awarded to the victim.
In Texas, the victim of a truck accident is entitled to full compensation if the driver was entirely at fault for the accident. However, this may not be the case where the victim was partially responsible for the accident. Under Texas law, where both the claimant and the defendant are responsible for the truck accident, the court will decide what percentage of each party's negligence contributed to the accident. The claimant's damages will then be reduced based on their share of fault. In Texas, it is important to note that the claimant will not be entitled to any damages if they are more than 50% responsible for the truck accident.
Whether an individual is a victim, the at-fault party, an onlooker, or a witness to a Texas truck accident, it is important to be aware of certain legal questions that often arise with regard to truck accidents and depending on specific facts and circumstances of the case, including:
Negligence refers to the failure to act in a way that an ordinarily prudent person would act under similar circumstances to prevent the risk of harm. In Texas, most truck accidents are usually caused by the truck driver's negligence. Such negligence may include drunk driving, speeding, driver's fatigue, and any other behaviors that endanger the lives of others. To prove negligence in a truck accident claim in Texas, the following elements must be established:
Duty of care: The claimant must show that the defendant owed a legal duty of care to them. For example, Texas commercial truck drivers owe other drivers the duty of maintaining road safety standards. The standard of care in a truck accident case means the care and diligence that an ordinarily prudent person would use under the circumstances to prevent injuries.
Breach of duty: The claimant must show that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling their legal duty. In a commercial truck accident case, such breach of duty may involve driving while intoxicated or fatigued, texting or calling while driving, or failing to do proper maintenance of the truck. A breach of duty, therefore, occurs when truck drivers fail to take reasonable care in driving which resulted in the victim's injuries.
Causation: Establishes that the driver's negligence directly caused the victim's injuries or property damage.
Damages: This element requires the claimant to prove that they suffered physical injuries or other losses due to the defendant's breach of duty.
Comparative negligence allows the plaintiff or claimant to recover damages even if they were partially responsible for the truck accident. Texas operates a 51 percent bar rule which prevents the victim from recovering damages if they are more than 50 percent at fault. The comparative negligence laws in Texas, therefore, limit the amount of compensation the plaintiff can recover in a truck accident case. If it is shown that the plaintiff is partially responsible for their injury or loss, the court will reduce their monetary compensation based on their percentage fault. For example, if the plaintiff is found to be 10 percent at fault for the truck accident and the truck driver was 90 percent at fault, the court will reduce the plaintiff's damages by 10 percent to reflect their fault.
Vicarious liability in truck accident cases arises when the trucking company is found to be indirectly responsible for the negligent acts of its driver. The principle is also known as ‘respondent superior’ which means ‘let the master answer.’ In Texas, the plaintiff may sue the trucking company for the driver's negligence provided the driver was acting in the course of employment when the accident occurred. Since the trucking company is responsible for hiring and supervising the drivers, the court would usually render the company liable for the mistakes or negligent acts of its drivers. For example, the company can be held vicariously liable for hiring a driver who has drug abuse problems and causes a truck accident.
In most cases, the at-fault truck driver usually has minimum liability insurance which may not cover the full extent of the plaintiff's damages. This makes it necessary for the plaintiff to include the trucking company among the liable parties and recover compensation under the company's insurance policy. Under Texas law, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation from the trucking company until the plaintiff has exhausted the insurance coverage of the at-fault truck driver. For the trucking company to be held vicariously liable in a truck accident lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that:
In Texas, the trucking company will not be held vicariously liable if the truck driver was acting outside the scope of their job duties. For example, there would be no vicarious liability if the truck driver had taken the truck for personal use at the time of the accident. In addition, the plaintiff must establish that the truck driver is an employee of the trucking company. There would be no vicarious liability if the driver is an independent contractor who owns the truck but works with the company under a contract.
In Texas, negligent entrustment allows the victim of an accident to hold the owner of the vehicle liable for its use by another person. In truck accident cases, the principle is used to render the owner of a truck liable for negligently leasing their vehicle to another driver. The following elements must be established when claiming negligent entrustment in Texas truck accident cases:
That the owner entrusted their vehicle to another person: the owner of the truck must have given permission to the driver to use the vehicle. It is important to note that permission may be given expressly or impliedly. Implied permission may be deduced from the owner's conduct or lack of objection to the use of the truck.
That the person the vehicle was entrusted to, was an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver: The owner of a truck may be sued for negligent entrustment if the driver does not have a license or is not capable of driving safely. For example, the Texas Transportation Code prohibits a driver from allowing an unlicensed driver to operate their vehicle. In addition, a truck owner who allows another person to drive their truck while knowing that such a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be liable for negligent entrustment.
That the owner knew or ought to have known that the driver was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless: Here, Texas courts do not require actual knowledge for negligent entrustment. A trucking company may be found liable for negligent entrustment if they hired a driver without investigating or checking their driving record. Since the driving record of a truck driver shows whether they are capable of driving safely, the trucking company may be held liable for negligent entrustment.
That the driver was negligent: This element requires the plaintiff to prove the basic elements of negligence such as the existence of a legal duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation. The element of causation requires the plaintiff to show that the driver's negligence directly caused their loss or injuries.
Texas statute of limitations requires a victim of a truck accident to sue within two years. This is based on the provisions of Chapter 16.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. According to this law, time begins to run from the date of the accident. In the case of wrongful death resulting from a truck crash, time begins to run from the date of the victim's death. It is therefore important for victims to hire a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. Failure to do this on time could render the claim statute barred.
It is important for the victim of a truck accident to hire a qualified personal injury lawyer when filing a lawsuit. Such an attorney would protect their rights and negotiate a favorable settlement on their behalf. Truck accident cases may not necessarily get to the courtroom and may end at the settlement stage between the victim and the at-fault party. However, the victim may decide to take legal action to recover damages if negotiations with the at-fault party's insurance company fail. During the truck accident suit, the victim's attorney would usually collect evidence to prove the defendant's negligence, investigate the accident to determine its cause, file an injury demand letter to settle with the defendant, and then negotiate the settlement terms with the trucking company’s insurance provider. The case however goes to court when the insurance company denies the victim's claim or fails to settle with the victim.
When initiating a truck accident lawsuit, the plaintiff's attorney would usually file a complaint that contains the claims and justifications for the suit. This complaint would be sent to the defendant's insurance company to respond. The at-fault party may then try to file several pre-trial motions to either delay the trial or gain an advantage in court. After this pre-trial process, a date is set in court for the hearing of the case which may take several months. During the trial, the attorneys of the parties then go through a discovery process which involves exchanging documents, gathering evidence, and reviewing the facts of the case. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the plaintiff may claim both economic and non-economic damages including medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Victims of Texas truck accidents can recover compensation for any loss or injury resulting from the defendant's negligence. Such compensation may cover any of the following:
Economic damages: These are financial losses that are easily calculated and they include medical expenses and costs, lost income, funeral and burial costs, loss of earning capacity, and property damage.
Non-economic damages: These are losses that cannot easily be quantified such as physical impairment, pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, and loss of companionship.
Punitive damages: These damages are awarded to punish the defendant for gross negligence and intentional disregard for safety. In a truck accident case, the court may award this damages if the plaintiff can show that the defendant knew of a substantial risk but disregarded it.
Under Texas wrongful death laws, only the immediate family of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim for death resulting from a truck accident. Such family members include spouses, children, parents (if there are no spouses or children), or a representative of the deceased’s estate. No other surviving family member has a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas. In a wrongful death claim, the claimant must show that the at-fault party acted negligently which resulted in the victim's death. The families of the deceased may then receive compensation for their losses such as medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of companionship and consortium, etc. It is important to speak with a wrongful death attorney who can help in providing legal advice on how to go about filing a claim and recovering compensation from the at-fault party.
In Texas, parents can file a wrongful death claim when their children are killed in a truck accident. The statute of limitations in Texas for such action is two years. This makes it necessary for parents to hire a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible who would assist in filing a claim against the at-fault party. Indeed, the financial burden caused by the death of a child may cause hardship to the family of the deceased. A wrongful death claim, therefore, allows such a family to achieve justice and recover compensation from the negligent party. In Texas, the court will usually award damages to cover funeral and burial costs, medical expenses incurred between the date of injury and date of death, loss of companionship, and mental, and emotional distress. The court may also award punitive damages to punish the defendant for gross negligence which resulted in the death of the child.
In Texas, several parties may be responsible for the plaintiff's injuries in a truck accident such as the truck driver, the trucking company that employs the driver, the truck manufacturer, the shipper, the broker, or the company that loaded the truck. Since multiple parties may be liable in a truck accident case, it becomes difficult to determine who is responsible for compensating the plaintiff's injury. It is therefore advisable for the victim of a truck accident to hire an experienced truck accident attorney who can determine the party liable to pay compensation. Such an attorney would usually consider the following when determining liability:
Liability of Truck Drivers: Truck Drivers are usually the person to consider when determining liability for a truck accident. A truck driver may be found liable if found to have failed to observe specific safety road standards such as speeding, drunk driving, driving without having enough sleep, or driving without proper inspection of their trucks.
Liability of the Trucking Company: The trucking company may be found directly or vicariously liable for the truck accident. Direct liability arises when the trucking company's negligence directly contributed to the crash. For example, if the company is guilty of negligent hiring and supervision, violates hours of service rules, or fails to perform proper truck maintenance. In the case of vicarious liability, the company is held indirectly liable for the negligent acts of the truck driver. This is because the driver is an employee or agent of the trucking company.
Liability of Shippers: The shipper may be found liable for failing to load the cargo properly. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, shippers and cargo loaders must maintain a standard of care when loading, balancing, or securing cargo for transport. Shippers may therefore be held liable for any truck accident that occurs due to their failure to maintain proper standards of care and diligence.
Liability of Brokers: A broker is a middleman that connects shippers with trucking companies to transport cargo. A broker may be liable for a truck accident if they negligently hire a trucking company with poor safety records or with a record of truck accidents.
Truck parts manufacturer: Depending on the available evidence in court, a manufacturer of truck parts may be found liable in a truck accident case involving defective brakes or tire blowouts.
In Texas, the defendant may raise several defenses in a truck accident case to reduce their liability. Some of the common defense strategies employed by defense attorneys in truck accident claims include:
Plaintiff's fault: The defendant may use this defense to claim that the plaintiff was partially responsible for their injuries. Texas follows comparative negligence laws, that prevent the plaintiff from receiving any compensation if found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the accident. If the trucking company can show that the plaintiff was responsible or partially responsible for the accident, they can reduce the plaintiff's damages by the plaintiff's percentage of fault.
Statute of Limitations: This is another defense strategy that may be used in a truck accident case. Texas statute of limitations requires a personal injury claim to be filed within two years from the date of the accident. If the plaintiff files the claim after this deadline, the trucking company may argue that the case is dismissed for being statute-barred.
Third parties' fault: The trucking company may argue that a third party was at fault when there are multiple parties involved in the truck accident. For this defense to succeed, the trucking company would have to collect evidence such as traffic camera recordings to prove the fault of the third party.
Lack of Evidence: This defense may be raised by the defendant to prove that the plaintiff lied or exaggerated about the extent of their injuries or lost wages. It is, therefore, necessary for the victim to gather watertight evidence such as medical records and eyewitness accounts to prove the extent of their injuries and other damages.
Honest mistake: The defendant may argue that the accident was unavoidable and occurred due to an honest mistake. In truck accident cases, the truck company may prove that the accident was inevitable and the driver was not negligent. If this defense succeeds, the company may escape liability for negligence.
The Seat Belt defense allows the defendant in a truck accident case to use the plaintiff's failure to wear a seatbelt against them. In other words, the defendant uses this defense to reduce their liability for the plaintiff’s injuries by claiming that the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the truck accident. Chapter 545.413 of the Texas Transportation Code requires all drivers and passengers in a vehicle to wear a seat belt. In addition, adults must ensure that children under the age of 17 are belted. Failure to wear a seatbelt is a class C misdemeanor punishable with a fine of $25 to $50.
In a Texas truck accident lawsuit, the defendant may raise the seat belt defense which, if admitted, may reduce the plaintiff's damages. Following the 2015 ruling of the Supreme Court of Texas in Nabors Wells Services Ltd. v Romero, evidence of seat belt non-use is now admissible in Texas courts. In that case, a crash occurred in South Texas involving a commercial vehicle and an SUV which resulted in the death of one person and several injured parties. The plaintiffs were awarded damages of $2.3 million which was reduced by the 49% fault of the driver. However, upon further review, several of the awards were dismissed due to the failure of the plaintiffs to wear seat belts. Since Texas operates a modified comparative negligence system, the plaintiff's failure to wear a seat belt may prevent them from receiving any damages if found to be more than 50 percent at fault.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, you most likely have a lot of questions that an experienced truck accident attorney can help you answer. You can speak to the best truck accident attorneys in Texas by either searching online for the term "best truck accident lawyers near me" or by visiting the state bar association website which provides a directory of qualified truck accident attorneys in Texas.