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A Quick Guide to Texas Truck Accident Laws in Texas

Truck accident laws in Texas pertain to personal injuries sustained by the occupants of a vehicle that was involved in an accident with a commercial freight truck. A truck is defined by Texas law as any motor vehicle principally employed to transport commodities or personal property. Commercial truck operators use Texas roadways in high volumes because trucks are an essential part of the state's multimodal freight system. By offering domestic and international cross-border commerce connections, their services benefit producers, consumers, and the whole Texas economy.

However, the increased reliance on the trucking industry has resulted in more trucks on the roads and, as a result, more truck accidents. Truck accidents are crashes and accidents involving large commercial trucks, such as delivery trucks, 18-wheeler trucks, tow trucks, and big rigs. Such accidents usually result in severe injuries and fatalities. The implications for the cars and their occupants are often disastrous because when truck accidents occur, the passenger car and its passengers often sustain the most severe injuries, which can have long-term consequences.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation Commercial Motor Vehicle Crash Report, 32,562 truck accidents were reported in Texas in 2020. Trucks were involved in 1,245 injury incidents and 513 fatal accidents. Overall, Texas has the highest number of fatal truck accidents in the country. Because of these concerns and the high frequency of truck accidents in Texas, the state's trucking industry is highly regulated. To ensure highway safety, several federal and state rules establish vehicle maintenance and safe driving standards for commercial motor vehicles. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) works with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) and the United States Department of Transportation to regulate the state's trucking industry.

Victims of severe truck accidents usually suffer from painful and traumatic injuries due to the massive weight, speed, and force involved. If a truck accident happens and the driver is found to be at fault, the victims may be able to seek compensation through truck accident claims. Truck accident claims are legal proceedings initiated to seek restitution from the liable party whose failure to exercise reasonable care resulted in the truck accident that injured the claimant. These efforts frequently entail settlement negotiations and going to trial.

Truck accident lawsuits are intended to guarantee that the responsible party or parties pay the total amount of any expenses incurred, and damages caused. The recoverable damages include compensation for physical, emotional, and financial losses caused by an accident.

What are the Laws Surrounding Big Rigs, Commercial Vehicles, and 18-Wheelers in Texas?

Federal and state governments impose specific regulations and standards that trucking companies and drivers must follow. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the national organization responsible for developing the laws, rules, and regulations that regulate motor carriers in the United States. The department's primary purpose as a division of the Federal Department of Transportation is to minimize the number of commercial truck-related injuries and deaths. Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (also known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations) offers a complete list of all the rules governing the trucking sector in the United States.

The federal regulations apply to commercial vehicles across the United States, including Texas. Regardless, commercial drivers in Texas are obliged to follow various state standards in addition to federal regulations. The applicable state statutes (which address many of the same issues described in federal legislation) are found in Title 7 of the Texas Transportation Code. Failure to obey these regulations can lead to fatal truck accidents. 

While certain rules apply specifically to truck drivers, others apply to the vehicles they operate. Some laws and regulations that apply exclusively to truck drivers include:

  • Licensing requirements: Part 383 of the FMCSA code outlines the requirements for truck drivers' licenses and the consequences for not complying with the terms. Truck drivers are only allowed to have one driver's license, which must be issued by their home state (Texas). Truck drivers can only be licensed if they pass the necessary knowledge and skill tests. Texas truck drivers who transport hazardous materials must undergo additional examinations before being issued a valid operating license.

  • Regular physical examination and training: Texas truck drivers must go through special training and pass a physical examination every two years before being allowed to operate trucks. They will be barred from using trucks if they fail this exam.

  • Alcohol and drug testing requirements: Part 382 of the FMCSA code specifies that no truck driver must report for duty if their blood alcohol level is 0.02 or above. Truck drivers in Texas are not permitted to drive with alcohol in their possession unless it is a component of their cargo. They are also not permitted to drink alcohol or other drugs that may impair their driving skills eight hours before a driving shift. Truck drivers are tested for illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamines, and amphetamines, following safety regulations.

  • Hours of Service: In response to an alarming increase in truck accidents caused by driver tiredness, the FMCSA revised truck driver hours of service limits. Texas truck drivers can only drive for 11 hours in a workday that is no more than 14 hours, after which they must spend a minimum of 10 hours off duty. They must also maintain logbooks detailing their time at work.

  • Mandatory insurance coverage: The Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires commercial trucking companies to maintain a minimum liability insurance coverage for each of their registered vehicles, as well as coverage against bodily injury, property damage, etc.

Truck-specific laws and regulations include:

  • Rules for safeguarding cargo: The FMCSA updated the requirements for securing cargo and big loads in trucks on January 1, 2004. The conditions were revised to ensure that cargoes are more secure with less possibility of falling off in transit. These guidelines include new and enhanced provisions for cargo security and the use of more efficient fastening devices.

  • Vehicle markings: All trucks must have specific markings on the outside of the vehicle. These include their USDOT number, Hazmat markings, and other identifying details.

  • Transporting hazardous materials: The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (OHMS) establishes safety standards for transporting hazardous materials. A person who suffers injury due to a truck driver's failure to fulfill those conditions may be eligible to make a claim against the truck driver, the trucking company, and the corporation that transported the hazardous material.

The FMCSA also has several rules and regulations that govern trucking companies' operations and other related entities.

Is a Truck Driver Given a Drug Test After a Truck Accident in Texas?

According to federal guidelines, a drug or alcohol test is required following every truck accident that results in death, regardless of whether a traffic citation was issued or not. Some drivers use drugs and stimulants to stay awake to stay on schedule or drive for long periods. These stimulants can cause excessive speeding, sleep deprivation, and other side effects that affect truck drivers' ability to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly. According to the FMCSA's recent research, drug use plays a role in at least 5.5 percent of fatal truck crashes each year. Driving a commercial vehicle while high on drugs or alcohol is reckless conduct that can result in deadly or significant truck accidents, injuries, and deaths. 

According to Section 382.303 of the FMCSA Code of Regulations, truck drivers must submit to drug and alcohol tests administered by their employers following most road accidents, particularly those involving a human fatality. Employers must provide a drug test to a truck driver within the first 32 hours following a qualifying truck accident. They must give the tests as soon as practically possible after the accident. However, trucking companies tend to exploit the system to avoid liability for accident-related losses. As a result, if testing is not performed within the stipulated time range, the FMCSA requires employers to explain the reasons for the delay. This provision makes it more difficult for trucking companies to take advantage of the system by refusing to provide a drug or alcohol test when one was required.

If a truck driver tests positive for drugs or alcohol, victims of truck accidents may use the drug test results as evidence against the driver during a truck accident lawsuit. It will be difficult for the trucking firm to prove that its driver was not at fault for the accident. The trucker's driving privileges are then immediately terminated, and they are no longer allowed to operate a commercial truck.

Furthermore, the trucking company must take reasonable measures to guarantee that the driver does not jeopardize other people’s safety. This might result in the termination or suspension of the driver's employment. Suppose an employer lets a trucker who has tested positive for drugs or alcohol continue operating a truck at a time when it may endanger others. In that case, the employer may be liable for the resulting truck accident.

Companies are still obligated to test their truck drivers for drug and alcohol usage in the following circumstances:

  • Before employing them
  • At random and unannounced
  • When there is a good reason to believe the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • When the driver resumes work after a positive drug or alcohol test.

Are the Laws Different for Semi-trucks and Regular Trucks in Texas?

State and federal rules accurately outline areas of commercial motor vehicle maintenance and safe driving practices. Specifically in Texas, trucks constitute vehicles used for commercial purposes, to transport goods and property. As such, the laws apply to commercial vehicles used in that capacity. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) apply to vehicles that are used in interstate commerce transactions. Interstate trucking is the movement of a commercial motor vehicle across state lines. In this case, the truck driver moves products from one location to another, with the eventual destination beyond the state's borders. The federal safety regulations also apply to vehicles that weigh over 10,000 pounds, carry at least 8 passengers, and transport hazardous materials.

However, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Motor Carrier Safety Regulations apply to commercial vehicles that are used in intrastate commerce transactions. Intrastate trucking entails transporting products within the state's borders. In this case, the interaction takes place entirely within the state's boundaries. State laws also apply to vehicles that weigh at least 26,000 pounds, carry more than 15 passengers, and transport hazardous materials.

What are the Fundamental Differences Between a Personal Injury Case for a Commercial Trucking Accident and a Private Auto Accident?

There are significant differences between truck accident claims and automobile accident claims. Some of these differences include:

  • Investigations. Truck accident lawsuits often necessitate a more thorough examination and analysis of facts than car accident lawsuits. For instance, following a car accident, an attorney may review evidence such as witness testimony, security camera footage, car damage, the location of the incident, and other factors that may have contributed to the occurrence. However, after a truck accident, the attorney may need to analyze different aspects and evidence to establish guilt and identify those individuals who may be liable. This evidence may include:

    • A truck driver's history and qualifications, including any past accident information
    • The vehicle's service and maintenance history 
    • Post-collision drug and alcohol testing results
    • Data from on-board systems on the truck, such as GPS and driver logs
    • Vehicle inspection history
    • Information on the cargo being transported, such as its weight, origin, and type.

Furthermore, while a local police officer or a member of the Texas Highway Patrol typically investigates a car accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are government entities that conduct investigations into trucking accidents. This implies that a few complex federal regulations will be implemented.

  • The extent of the injuries. The risk of catastrophic injury in a truck collision is substantially higher than in other forms of auto accidents. The difference in size and weight between the different vehicles involved is one of the primary causes of the severe injuries sustained in truck accidents. Commercial truck accidents can result in significant injuries, such as: 

    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Bone fractures
    • Spinal injury
    • Paralysis
    • Serious burns
    • Death

  • Number of parties involved. In auto accidents, it is common for the vehicle driver that caused the accident to be held primarily responsible for the collision. However, numerous persons or companies may share liability for a truck accident. Identifying all jointly responsible parties may allow victims to file a truck accident claim against each of them, thereby increasing the amount of compensation they get for their injuries.

  • Insurance policies. Truck drivers have more extensive insurance plans than private drivers. Truck insurance policies offer much higher coverage limits of up to $1 million or more when compared to conventional car insurance plans. While private drivers must have the bare minimum of liability insurance, the federal government governs commercial truck drivers' insurance. Consequently, truck drivers face much greater liability requirements than private drivers. Due to this insurance coverage, victims of commercial truck accidents may be entitled to more compensation for their injuries than victims of auto accidents involving private cars. Furthermore, truck insurance firms will aggressively defend their claims in order to protect the large sums of money at risk.

  • Expensive medical bills. Truck accidents usually result in higher medical bills. Medical expenses after a vehicle accident are typically proportionate to the severity of the victim's injuries. Because truck accidents often result in more severe injuries than car accidents, the medical costs from a truck accident are usually substantially greater.

Who is Liable for a Truck Accident Claim in Texas?

The theory of negligence is used to establish who is accountable for damages in truck accident claims. To prove negligence, the plaintiff who filed the action must demonstrate that each of these components existed:

  • Duty: The plaintiff must show that the liable party owed a duty to exercise reasonable caution to avoid accidents. For instance, truck drivers have a legal obligation to observe traffic regulations and refrain from engaging in behaviors that might result in an accident. Trucking companies must also recruit qualified drivers and keep their vehicles in excellent working order.
  • Breach of duty: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached their legal duties. For example, a truck driver may breach their legal duty by driving carelessly, speeding, or driving under the influence. A trucking company may breach its duty of care by failing to ensure proper screening of truck drivers and truck maintenance.
  • Cause in fact: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the truck driver's or trucking company's negligence or breach of duty of care directly contributed to the truck accident that resulted in their injuries.
  • Damages: The plaintiff must show that the accident caused measurable damages that the civil court system can compensate.

If these elements are proven, the plaintiff may be entitled to financial restitution under Texas law.

Truck accidents are often caused by the truck driver's carelessness or wrongdoing. However, some faults may be assigned to other parties. Some parties that may be named in a truck accident cases include:

  • The trucking company: The trucking company may be liable for the truck driver's negligence under the respondeat superior doctrine. It is a legal principle that makes a company or employer accountable for accidents caused by a truck driver if the individual is an employee and was operating within the scope of their employment. Also, if the trucking company breached federal or state law, it may be held fully or partially liable. Such breaches may include negligent hiring or compelling the truck driver to travel for longer than authorized.
  • Vehicle maintenance and repair companies: While truck owners are responsible for keeping their vehicles in good condition, liability for an accident caused by a problem with maintenance or repair may lie on the mechanics or technicians who worked on the truck.
  • Manufacturers of automobile parts: If a malfunction caused the vehicle to crash, the item's manufacturer might be liable.
  • Cargo-loading companies: Truck accidents can occur if the cargo is not correctly loaded and secured. Shipping and distribution facilities use third-party companies to load and unload their trucks; errors from these companies or their personnel may result in the company being liable in the case of a truck accident.

In general, determining who is at fault in a truck accident case can be challenging. The claimant may hire the services of a personal injury attorney to assess liability. The attorney may also need to hire specialists and investigators to assist with the investigation.

What is Modified Comparative Fault? 

It is important to note that Texas uses a modified comparative fault standard to decide who is at fault and how much compensation should be granted. This standard is also known as proportionate responsibility. According to this law, both parties can be liable for causing an accident and the accompanying injuries. If the truck accident was caused by both parties’ negligence, the jury would determine how much of their negligence contributed to the crash. Following that, the total amount of damages awarded will be reduced according to the plaintiff's share of fault. If the claimant is found to be more than 51 percent at fault for the truck accident, they will be denied compensation.

How Long does it Take to File a Truck Accident Claim in Texas? 

The statute of limitations for filing a civil claim, such as a truck accident claim, in Texas is two years from the date of the truck accident. A statute of limitations defines the length of time that plaintiffs have to file a claim after a truck accident. If the claim is not brought before the court within the two-year time limit, the law may deny the opportunity to pursue the claim. The affected person will then be unable to reclaim any medical expenses or lost pay.

Statute of limitation applies to truck accident personal injury claims, and wrongful death claims. Truck accident wrongful death lawsuits are filed when an accident results in death. The Texas Wrongful Death Act and the Texas Survival Statute allow surviving parents, children, or spouses and the deceased's estate to file a claim up to two years after a fatal truck accident.

However, there are several exceptions to the two-year time limits. Some of these exceptions include:

  • The victim who was hurt was a minor or deemed incompetent: If the victim is under the age of 18 or of unsound mind at the time of the incident, the two-year statute of limitation will not begin until they reach the age of 18 or become mentally competent.

  • The liable party leaves the state: If the person who caused the injury leaves Texas for an extended period, the clock stops. Their absence is not counted against the two years, and the clock will not restart until they return.

Are you in need of a truck accident or personal injury lawyer? Consult the state bar association website for a list of qualified accident attorneys in Texas. You may also use referrals from colleagues, friends, and family, or the lawyer referral services of professional bar associations in your county. A simple google search for keywords such as "truck accident lawyer near me" can also provide you with the contact information of accident attorneys in your area.