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Taking Legal Actions After a Truck Accident in Texas

Texas truck accidents are highly problematic because trucks are large and have a more significant potential for causing harm. In the aftermath of a truck accident, victims suffer substantial injuries, significant property loss, and death. Because of the extent of damages, obtaining compensation requires a thorough understanding of state and federal commercial vehicle codes, extensive investigations, and advanced negotiation skills; all of which can be intimidating for truck accident victims. Individuals injured in truck accidents can rely on the expertise of  truck accident attorneys to secure compensation for their losses. Hiring a truck accident attorney is a strategic approach to the potentially lengthy and challenging legal procedure ahead.

Who do I Sue After a Truck Accident?

A person who has been harmed in a truck accident has the legal right to sue the responsible party for compensation. Parties that may be liable in a Texas truck accident include:

  • The truck mechanic.
    Trucks are prone to malfunctions and accidents when they have poor or inconsistent maintenance. Regular vehicle checks are essential for avoiding collisions, and a truck mechanic can help ensure that the truck is in excellent functioning order. If mechanics fail to adequately maintain the trucks in their care, they may be liable for collisions involving the vehicles.

  • The vehicle's designer or manufacturer.
    A truck's defective parts may cause it to malfunction. The vehicle designer may be liable for the truck accident if this occurs.

  • The government.
    In general, the government is immune from legal action. However, under certain circumstances, the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) allows Texans to sue the state, county, or municipal government for damages stemming from truck accidents. Hence, a governmental entity may be held accountable for a truck accident if the person who caused the accident was acting within the scope of their work and would be liable as a private individual.

The Act further states that the government may be liable for damages if certain government responsibilities or activities are not carried out properly and cause the accident. Examples include bad police and fire protection services, poor road design, construction, and or repairs, and non-functioning or non-existent signs, lighting, or markings.

Furthermore, the amount of damages that can be recovered in a civil action against the government is limited. TTCA restricts bodily injury claims to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per occurrence, while property damage claims cap at $100,000 per occurrence. According to Texas statute of limitation, injured texans typically have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury claim against a private entity. However, when requesting compensation from the government, the statute of limitation is significantly shorter. The TTCA requires claimants to inform the appropriate government agency of their claims within six months of the accident unless an extension is granted.

To sue under Texas law, the claimant must establish these elements to decide which individual or entity is liable for the accident:

  • Legal duty to avoid harming others:
    The claimant must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care. For instance, Texas truck drivers have a legal obligation to respect road safety laws and refrain from engaging in activities that might result in an accident.
  • Breach of that legal responsibility:
    The claimant must also demonstrate that the defendant’s actions violated their legal duty. A truck driver may fail to uphold their legal duty by driving recklessly, speeding, and driving under the influence.
  • Causation:
    The claimant must demonstrate that the defendant’s behavior was a direct cause or a significant contributor to the truck accident. For example, a truck driver may have crashed another vehicle because they were drunk. A trucking company may also have hired an inexperienced and untrained driver that caused the truck accident.
  • Damages or losses:
    The claimant must show that the truck accident caused their injuries and other accident-related losses. Medical records, healthcare bills, automobile repair estimates, and income statements might be used to establish the extent of their losses.

Can You Sue a Trucking Company?

Any individual or entity that suffered injuries because a trucking company acted negligently or recklessly has the right to sue for compensation. Typical examples of negligent actions include:

  • Failure to carefully vet drivers before hiring them
  • Recruiting drivers with related driving infractions
  • Failure to provide proper training to truck drivers
  • Failure to examine and maintain the commercial vehicle to guarantee that it was in good condition.
  • Putting excessive pressure on drivers to drive for a longer time than permitted by the law 
  • Violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirements

Furthermore, trucking companies are usually held responsible for their drivers' actions. Because the truck driver is a representative of the company, the business may be liable for the actions of its workers. However, the House and Senate recently passed House Bill 19 (HB19), which went into effect on September 1, 2021. The legislation drastically changed the procedure for suing negligent drivers and trucking companies. 

According to HB 19, trucking companies can only be liable for Texas truck accidents if it could be proven that the company had engaged in gross negligence in its driver training and procedures. As such, instead of suing the trucking company following a truck accident involving one of its trucks, more victims will be limited to suing only the truck driver. It also implies that if a plaintiff wants to hold a trucking business liable, they must demonstrate a greater level of proof.

Because individual truck drivers do not have the financial resources that large trucking companies do, HB 19 may make it more difficult for truck accident victims to obtain adequate compensation for their injuries or wrongful death. In general, the possibility of paying a large sum to an accident victim helps to keep trucking businesses in check. However, because the legislation limits the capacity of accident victims to sue trucking businesses, it diminishes the incentive for trucking corporations to prioritize safety above profits.

Can I Sue for Being Hit by an 18-Wheeler?

Depending on the specifics of the incident, any individual who has been injured in a truck accident involving an 18-wheeler may be entitled to file a lawsuit. This is particularly true if the truck accident was caused by another party's negligence.

Documents to Show Your Attorney After a Motor Vehicle Accident

During the meeting with a truck accident lawyer, it is essential to bring a few documents to help with the litigation process. Having these documents available increases the likelihood of winning a truck accident lawsuit and collecting the compensation to which a victim is entitled.

These documents include:

  • Police and accident reports.
    When the police arrive at the site of a truck accident, they typically examine the scene and write out an accident report. This report frequently includes a preliminary determination of what caused the truck accident. The reports often include information on the types of vehicles involved in the accidents and the names of the drivers. It also contains information about witnesses, weather, and other relevant information.

While the conclusion may be modified or altered in the future based on new evidence, the accident report is an effective tool in identifying who is responsible for an accident. The reports provide an unbiased and impartial assessment of the accident. Hence, it may also be helpful to the victim during settlement negotiations or trials. Accident or police records are public information and may be obtained by contacting the local police station and making a request.

  • Insurance policies and proof of premium payments.
    Driving without proper insurance coverage is against the law in Texas. If the driver's insurance coverage has lapsed or otherwise fails to fulfill the state's minimal criteria, the claimant may face legal consequences. However, if the truck accident lawyer learns this information ahead of time, it will help them put up a strong strategy.

Even if the claimant’s insurance coverage is up to date, they may still be asked to show proof of payments to avoid a dispute. Checks submitted to the insurance company and bank records showing the date they completed the final payment might be used as evidence. If the payment was made with a credit card, they might also provide a credit card statement as verification.

  • Details on the driver and the commercial vehicle.
    It is important to get as much information regarding the driver and the truck involved in the accident. The driver's name, contact information, insurance information, and license plate number are all essential pieces of information. The claimant should also obtain a copy of the driver's commercial driver's license, insurance policy, and information about the truck's technical and safety history. These materials will help the truck accident attorney build a strong case against the responsible parties.

  • Medical and psychological records.
    Injured parties must provide their attorneys with complete records of their medical and psychological injuries. Examples of such records include test results, hospital bills, and receipts for medical charges, especially for out-of-pocket expenses. These records will disclose if the victim sought medical assistance after the truck accident and the findings of the doctor's examination. Furthermore, they may disclose whether the individual had any underlying medical issues before the accident.

  • Photographs and video footage from the accident scene.
    Photographs and videos of the incident are helpful evidence in the case of a vehicle accident lawsuit. If there are surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the incident, the footage may be obtained and used as evidence. Also, witnesses may provide photos and video footage of the collision. Obtaining enough visual data from the accident will help build a strong claim.

  • Employment and pay history.
    The truck accident lawyer requires the claimant's employment and pay records to determine how much money they may have lost due to the accident. The attorney may also use their most recent pay stubs to assess any lost current or future wages. Furthermore, recent tax returns and other financial data may help in estimating how much money the claimant lost owing to their inability to return to work. 

What do I Need to Prove My Truck Accident Case in Texas?

To win a truck accident case, the claimant must demonstrate liability. Multiple evidence must be shown to demonstrate fault, including proof that there was a duty of care, that duty was violated, that breach resulted in an accident, and that the accident resulted in serious injury. Providing enough evidence to support the claim and retaining competent legal assistance increases the likelihood of winning the case for the claimant.

On the other hand, defendants must show that they were not at fault for the truck accident. They may also claim that they were only at fault for more minor injuries than the plaintiff claimed. Some arguments that may increase the defendant’s likelihood of winning the case include:

  • Comparative and Contributory Negligence. If the trucking company can prove that the claimant was at fault for the accident or was at least partially to blame, they may be able to decrease or eliminate the amount to which the plaintiff is entitled.

    When defendants use this defense, they claim that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the accident. Under Texas Comparative Negligence Law, if the plaintiff was judged to be more than 50% at fault, they would be barred from receiving any compensation. If the plaintiff is found to be less than 50% at fault, their compensation will be reduced by the percentage of their fault.

  • Exaggeration or overestimation. Defendants may argue that the claimant substantially exaggerated the extent of their damages and, as a result, are not entitled to the total amount of compensation requested.

  • Insufficient evidence. This defense asserts that the plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence to establish culpability for their injuries and other losses.

  • Pre-existing injuries. This defense argues that the plaintiff is claiming compensation for previous injuries rather than the current accident. Typically, the plaintiff can defend against these false claims by demonstrating that the new injuries are unrelated to the previous injury or that the prior damage was exacerbated in the current truck accident.

  • Mitigation of damages. Injured victims owe it to themselves to minimize their losses. Suppose the claimant did not seek treatment immediately following their injury or did not follow their doctor's advice. In that case, the defendants may argue that the claimant failed to minimize their losses by choosing not to obtain the necessary medical treatment.

Providing enough evidence or testimonies to support these defenses will increase the likelihood of winning the case for the defendant. 

Can I Sue for a Lost Job Due to a Truck Accident in Texas?

Yes, a truck accident victim who has been unable to work due to their injuries may be entitled to sue for the lost job, income, and other damages. When a large truck collides with a smaller passenger car, the occupants in the smaller vehicle are often severely hurt. Many of them need extended hospitalizations and inpatient rehabilitation programs. Some people are out of work for weeks or months at a time, making it difficult to pay bills and manage expenses.

Those seeking compensation for missed pay while recovering from a vehicle accident may file an accident lawsuit for lost income. They can decide who is to blame for the truck accident, collect evidence to show that the parties were negligent, and file a claim for compensation. If the victim sustained serious injuries, such as a brain injury or spinal cord damage, they may be unable to return to their previous job. Such victims may be entitled to compensation for loss of earning capacity.

Can an Uninsured Driver Hit by an Insured Driver File a Claim?

Uninsured accident victims who were not at fault for an accident may be entitled to financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages from missed work, pain and suffering, and other damages. An uninsured motorist is a driver who does not have automobile insurance or has insurance that does not satisfy the state's minimal requirements. Uninsured motorists can pursue compensation for their losses by suing the at-fault party. This coverage is given by the other driver's uninsured motorist policy. However, because uninsured motorist coverage is optional in Texas, the negligent driver may have waived it. As a result, the uninsured victim may be forced to cover the costs through alternate means or out of pocket. In general, if a person does not have automotive insurance, they are breaking the law. As a result, regardless of whether the incident was their fault or not, an uninsured driver would suffer financially after a truck accident. Their refusal to get insurance might be used against them in court or to justify a lesser settlement offer.

There are three primary courts in Texas that might potentially handle a personal injury lawsuit (truck accident claim) during the litigation. These include district courts, appellate courts, and federal courts. Because most personal injury lawsuits are classified as civil court proceedings, plaintiffs injured in truck accidents must file their claims in a civil court of law rather than a criminal court of law. They must file a personal injury action in a state trial court, sometimes known as a district court in Texas. This trial court will determine whether or not a person has a claim and the appropriate course of action to pursue their claim. 

While most truck accident cases originate and end in the trial courts, Texas appellate courts may address some cases. If a party is unsatisfied with the verdict of the trial court case, they can appeal to the appellate courts. An appeal is a request to a higher court to review a lower court's judgment. After losing a truck accident case in the trial court, the losing party may choose to seek an appeal to reverse the other party's trial court victory. The appeal court will then review the trial court's ruling and decide whether or not to take the matter further. When an appellate court concludes that there was no error in the trial, they can refer the matter to the Texas Supreme Court for a second opinion, but the supreme court is not required to hear the case.

A personal injury claim may be transferred to federal court in some circumstances. Federal courts have a narrower scope of jurisdiction than state district courts, and as a result, they can only hear a limited number of cases. Federal courts can consider truck accident lawsuits involving violations of federal legislation or the United States Constitution. To pursue a truck accident lawsuit in federal court, the claimant must present a case that involves plaintiffs and defendants from different states. The damages at stake must also be more than $75,000. Because trucking companies routinely move goods over state boundaries, they are deemed to be involved in interstate commerce and may be subject to federal court jurisdiction.

Can Truck Drivers Represent Themselves in Court?

Truck drivers have the right to defend themselves in court. All parties in personal injury litigation have the opportunity to consult with a truck accident attorney and, if they want, represent themselves. This right to defend oneself is called "Pro Se Defense".

Despite this, they may prefer to retain expert legal counsel due to the scale and complexity of the losses originating from truck accidents. Furthermore, because commercial trucking companies may be held responsible for the conduct of their truck drivers, they generally engage professional personal injury attorneys to safeguard their interests. Truck drivers can profit from having such lawyers represent them in court.

What Type of Lawyer do Truck Drivers Need if They are Sued?

Truck drivers and trucking businesses who are sued may retain the services of trucking attorneys to represent them in a trucking accident lawsuit. A trucking lawyer, often known as a commercial trucking attorney, is a lawyer who specializes in transportation law. They provide legal services to entities such as independent truck drivers, trucking firms, shipping corporations, and other logistics businesses.
In addition to assisting these entities to understand and comply with applicable transportation legislation, trucking attorneys also protect their client’s interests during litigation. Trucking attorneys in Texas must be familiar with the regulatory, technical, and legal issues that influence the state's transportation system and trucking industry.

What Happens at a Truck Accident Case Trial?

In a truck accident lawsuit trial, a judge or jury examines the evidence and decides whether the defendant should be held responsible for the plaintiff's injuries. The trial is the plaintiff's chance to present their case in court, and get a judgment against the defendant. It also allows the defendant to respond to the plaintiff's accusations and, if relevant, offer their evidence related to the issue at hand. After both parties have presented their arguments, the judge or jury determines whether or not to hold the defendant liable for the plaintiff's alleged injuries and to what extent they should be held responsible.

These are the stages of a truck accident trial:

  • Jury Selection

A jury trial, often known as "voir dire," is one of the first steps in every personal injury trial, except for cases only heard by a judge. Before selecting a jury, the judge, the plaintiff, and the defendant (via their respective attorneys) will question a pool of potential jurors on various topics generally and specifically related to the case. This process is intended to determine whether they have any ideologies or views that might prevent them from being fair or unbiased if they were chosen. Potential jurors may be dismissed based on their answers to the questions asked. Between 6 and 12 jurors will be selected from the other potential jurors.

  • Opening Statements

An opening statement is a factual speech that informs the jury about the evidence presented to them throughout the trial. It creates the first impression of the case, prepares the jury for what to anticipate, and assists them in understanding the evidence when it is presented. Because the plaintiff (injured party) has the burden of proof, the plaintiff usually opens and closes the case.

Following that, the defendant's counsel will provide the facts and evidence that they believe prove that the defendant was not negligent and that the plaintiff was not hurt in the truck accident or was not injured to the extent that they claim.

  • Case-in-Chief

The plaintiff begins the case-in-chief immediately following the presentation of their opening statements. The plaintiff's case-in-chief is an organized presentation of facts designed to convince the jury that the defendant is liable for the injuries and losses. At this point, the plaintiff may call witnesses and experts to testify to strengthen their case. They may also provide evidence and exhibits like pictures, medical records, etc. 

After both parties present their cases and question the evidence presented by the other, both parties "rest," which indicates that no further evidence will be presented to the jury until the closing arguments are made.

  • Closing Arguments

Like the opening statement, the closing argument allows both parties in the dispute to summarize the case by reviewing the facts in a way that benefits their respective viewpoints. Unlike the opening statements during which attorneys are limited to discussing the facts of the case, the closing argument allows attorneys to explain why their clients should win the case. 

The plaintiff's purpose in closing arguments is to show why the evidence requires the jury to find the defendant legally liable for the plaintiff's harm. On the other hand, the defendant tries to prove that the plaintiff failed to establish liability.

  • Jury Instruction

Following both parties' presentation of evidence and closing statements, the next stage in reaching a verdict is jury instruction. This is a procedure in which the judge provides the jury with a set of legal criteria to consider when making their decision.

  • Jury Deliberations

Following that, the jury will have private deliberations to determine whether or not the plaintiff has met their burden of proof. Suppose the jury determines that the defendant was negligent and liable for the plaintiff's injuries. In that case, the jury will next decide how much money to award the plaintiff. Depending on the complexity of the case, the deliberation process might last several hours or many weeks. 

In most Texas state courts, just 9 of the 12 jurors must agree on the amount of damages to be awarded. In federal courts, however, the jury must make a unanimous judgment on the amount of damages to award. If they cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the trial is concluded, and the attorneys are required to retry the case with a new jury. However, the losing side may be entitled to submit an appeal to challenge the verdict. 

The relatives of a deceased individual filed a wrongful death claim in Newton County. The victim's family claimed that the truck driver's failure to surrender the right-of-way to the deceased caused the truck accident, which resulted in the victim's death. The defendants (the truck driver and their employer) claimed that the decedent was at fault. They claimed that the decedent was speeding and under the influence of marijuana and methamphetamines, which impaired their ability to drive safely. The case was tried before a jury that ruled in the defendant's favor on the grounds of negligence. Although the decedent's family appealed the verdict, the Texas Court of Appeals for the Ninth District upheld the trial court's decision in favor of the truck driver and trucking company.

Collecting Money After a Court Accident Judgment in Texas

A judgment is a judicial decision that takes the form of a court order. It is used to settle a dispute between two parties by defining each party's rights and responsibilities. In a truck accident case, the court accident judgment settles all contested issues and concludes the action. It describes who won the accident lawsuit and what remedies were granted. The individual against whom a monetary judgment has been rendered is the judgment debtor or debtor business. 

In Texas, there are several alternatives for collecting on a judgment, including - Wage garnishment.

  • Filing a judgment lien
  • Obtaining an execution writ
  • Payment plans, etc.

If a judgment debtor fails to pay the judgment on their initiative, collection actions may be initiated. The creditor may begin the collection action within 30 days of the entry of the judgment. It is critical to understand that judgments are typically valid for ten years in Texas, but they can be extended for another ten years if required. If a judgment is not renewed, it goes into default, and the judgment creditor, the owed party, may be unable to collect the debt.

What Happens if the Defendant does Not Pay?

When a defendant or judgment debtor refuses to pay, the need for judgment enforcement arises. While some defendants will usually pay what they owe after a trial, others may postpone or avoid paying. Depending on the facts of the case, the defendant may file an appeal to have the judgment and damages award overturned. Appeals take time, and the outcomes might range from affirming the trial court's ruling to a retrial order. 

Furthermore, just because a court has ordered someone to pay does not mean that they will do so willingly or have the financial means to do so. For example, if the court judgment amount exceeds the insurance coverage available to the defendant, collecting the award may be more challenging. As a result, if the debtor refuses to pay a judgment, the entitled party may need to go through extra steps to identify the judgment debtor’s assets and sources of income before initiating a collection or enforcement process. 

A judgment creditor must take the following procedures to enforce a judgment in Texas:

  • Post-judgment discovery

The post-judgment discovery is used to obtain information on the extent and disposition of a judgment debtor's assets directly from the judgment debtor. The debtor may be required to provide information on real estate, tangible assets, and bank accounts throughout the proceedings. If they do not respond, the court may sanction them to compel compliance.

  • Abstracting the final judgment

After determining the disposition of the debtor's property, such as real estate, automobiles, art collections, and other valuables, the creditor can file judgment liens by obtaining an Abstract of Judgment. An abstract of judgment puts a lien on any real estate property the judgment debtor owns. The lien notifies the general public that a judgment has been issued against the debtor's non-exempt real property.

  • Obtain a writ of execution

A writ of execution is a proactive way of collecting judgment debts. Thirty days after getting a final judgment in their favor, a creditor can request a writ of execution from the court clerk. If the clerk issues the writ of execution, a Texas constable or sheriff can seize the judgment debtor's non-exempt property and sell it at an auction to settle the judgment. 

  • Obtain a turnover order

The turnover order requires the debtor to give over their things to the sheriff so that they can be sold. It is the least common of all collection options. However, it may be used if specific assets cannot be retrieved using traditional collection methods. Because of the extent of their authority, turnover orders are rarely issued.

  • Writ of garnishment 

Suppose a writ of execution cannot be used because the judgment debtor lacks sufficient non-exempt property in Texas. In that case, the judgment creditor may pursue a writ of garnishment to collect the judgment debt. Garnishment allows a judgment creditor to collect payments from the debtor's bank account until the obligation is fully completed. In Texas, garnishments are limited to 50% of a debtor's disposable income. 

However, a judgment debtor may be judgment-proof. This occurs when a debtor lacks the funds or property to satisfy the judgment. If their assets are not subject to seizure and they do not possess any real estate upon which to put a lien, the creditor may be compelled to postpone collection efforts.

What Happens When You Get a Judgment Against You in Texas?

Any individual or business that has a judgment entered against them should pay the judgment promptly. If they do not make payment in due time, the judgment creditor will initiate collection actions. This implies that the creditor has the legal right and ability to garnish the judgment debtor's earnings, establish a lien on their property, or deliver the judgment to a sheriff, who has the authority to confiscate and sell the debtor's property to settle the obligation. 

Judgment debtors who cannot pay their obligations immediately may try to persuade their creditors to accept installment payments or, as a last resort, file for bankruptcy. Furthermore, if the judgment debtor is dissatisfied with the court's ruling, they may appeal to a higher court.

Trucking litigation presents a distinct set of issues, including:

  • The defendant's financial status
    Because of the extent of the damages caused by truck accidents, compensation might be in the thousands, if not millions, of dollars. A trucking firm or motor carrier service may be able to afford these expenses, but a smaller entity or person may not. According to HB 19, Texas truck drivers and their employers may be held individually liable for truck accidents. As a result, if a truck driver is deemed liable, the individual may be unable to compensate the victims adequately.

  • Investigatory and litigation resources of trucking companies
    When trucking companies are found to be responsible in truck accident litigation, they often have vast legal resources at their disposal to defend themselves against truck accident accusations. As a result, injured victims should obtain adequate legal representation as quickly as possible to protect their rights and best interests.

  • Keeping evidence from being destroyed or manipulated
    Although Texas truck drivers and commercial carriers are required to retain records and preserve certain types of evidence, evidence destruction is a common occurrence in the trucking industry's legal procedures. Claimants require attorneys who will act immediately to ensure that evidence is not lost in such circumstances. 

Finding a truck accident lawyer is one of the first steps to take when filing a claim for any injury caused by a truck accident. A truck accident lawyer helps their clients to build a solid case in order to recover fair compensation for their loss or injury. To hire the best truck accident lawyers in Texas, concerned individuals may use several sources including informal referrals from family and friends, state bar association directory or lawyer referral services of local bar associations.