How Is Fault Determined After a Truck Accident?
While many trucking companies and truck drivers adhere to safety regulations and safe conduct, there are unfortunately some who willfully, knowingly disregard regulations and operate negligently. A typical passenger vehicle is no match for a massive 80,000-pound 18-wheeler truck. If the commercial truck is poorly maintained or dangerously operated, there is a high possibility that other motorists traveling nearby could be seriously injured or even killed. If you were injured in a truck accident, you need to take action and speak with an attorney about your case. A Houston truck accident attorney from Arnold & Itkin can provide you with a helpful consultation free of charge, so you understand your rights and options. We are prepared to fight for the best recovery possible.
Who Is at Fault for a Truck Accident?
One crucial element for determining fault is the legal principle of “negligence.” Insurance companies and courts will assign fault using the idea of negligence, or a driver’s failure to exercise “duty of care.” Essentially, whichever party was more careless will be considered more at fault. Negligence is partially determined through eyewitness accounts and citations given at the scene of the accident. The police, who usually arrive shortly, will interview each driver, any passengers or witnesses, and will fill out a police report that includes their professional opinion. They will also investigate any traffic violations that occurred before or during the accident, giving citations as needed.
It is important to remember that a police report is not a definitive document that determines fault. Some courts may consider much of a police report “hearsay,” meaning it is not admissible as evidence. However, citations do help determine which of the drivers was more careless. For example, if a police report indicates that one driver was texting, the citation for texting may result in that driver being found more negligent. Another important part of determining fault is proof that a driver was violating the vehicle code, even if they were not cited for it at the time.
Identifying Liable Parties
Determining liability in commercial truck accidents can be more complex than in a typical fender bender between two private motorists. In a truck accident, there may still be several potentially liable parties.
Let's take a look at who those parties might be:
- The Truck Driver – Driver error is the most predominant cause, and this definition can range from driving under the influence, distracted driving, driving fatigue, and may other factors.
- The Trucking Company – Trucking companies could be held liable for employing unqualified drivers, or failing to main safe, day-to-day operation of their equipment,
- The Truck Manufacturers – Truck manufacturers may be identified as liable if they made and sold a defective part that ultimately caused the accident.
- The Maintenance Company – Maintenance companies can be held liable for failing to fix damaged or defective parts. Usually, they are held partially liable along with trucking companies.
- The Loading Company – Cargo companies are responsible for avoiding overloaded trucks; these weight and balance problems could have contributed to the accident.
- The City – If it can be determined that the accident was caused by a poorly maintained roadway, action can be taken against the city or state responsible for their condition.
Liability can span across numerous parties when these trucking accidents occur. The truck driver may be held liable for damages when an accident happens as a direct result of his or her negligence and takes places outside the scope of their employment. For example, a truck driver stops to make a personal visit, and then decides to drive longer hours to make up for lost time. The driver is drowsy and falls asleep behind the wheel, leading to a crash. In another example, the driver stops at a bar during a delivery and grabs a drink. Here, the driver acted outside of his or her employment and it is likely that drinking is specifically not allowed by their company contract, so the driver can be held liable.
However, most accidents happen within the scope of the truck driver’s employment and the companies are responsible for the actions of their employees. A company’s poor policies, poor enforcement of policies, lack of maintenance, lack of training, and negligent hiring and oversight are all causes that can contribute to a company’s liability in a trucking accident. In order to prove that an entity was at fault in the accident, you need to prove that the driver, truck company, or others were involved in breaking the law, causing the accident, and ultimately showing negligence.
Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Violations & Truck Accident Liability
CDL drivers are trained to drive Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMV). All CDL drivers are bound by strict rules and violating those rules can result in penalties or disqualification of their CDL. Disqualification can happen for driving-related offences as well as criminal offences. Therefore corporations must conduct thorough background checks when hiring and must also have effective training in place. If a driver has two serious violations within a 3-year period, the driver can be disqualified for 60 days. If the driver has 3 serious violations within a 3-year period, the driver can received a 120-day disqualification.
According to the Federal Government, “serious violations” leading to disqualification are:
- Speeding 15 mph over the expected speed limit
- Erratic lane changes
- Following another vehicle too closely in more than one instance
- Driving recklessly
- Driving distracted (texting or speaking or someone on the phone, eating while driving, etc.)
- A traffic violation that is a result of a fatal or near-fatal accident
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle without a CDL license
- Driving a CMV without having the CDL license at the time of driving
“Major violations” as noted by the Federal Government are:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
- Driving under the influence of drugs
- Using a vehicle to commit a crime
- Driving a vehicle or a CMV while his or her CMV has been revoked
- Negligence that leads to a CMV accident
- Driver refusing a chemical test
- Leaving an accident scene
"I Was Partially At Fault. Do I Still Have a Case?"
Fault in truck accident cases is not always a black and white issue. After all, truck accidents often have a multitude of contributing factors. There are instances where one driver is wholly at fault while the other is blameless, but that is not always the case. In fact, there are many situations where both drivers may share a portion of the blame. That, however, does not mean you will not be able to recover. Whether or not you will be eligible to recover will be determined by your percentage of fault, as well as which state you reside in, where the accident took place.
Understanding the Three Negligence Laws
There are three negligence rules practiced nationwide:
- Pure Contributory Negligence
- Pure Comparative Fault
- Modified Comparative Fault
Pure Contributory Negligence
This rule dictates that if one driver contributed even slightly to a collision, they cannot recover damages and are considered at fault. The rule can be disputed if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was being willfully destructive or knowingly negligent. The law itself is rather tough—it requires virtually total innocence on the part of the plaintiff, but fortunately for injured drivers, only a handful of states utilize this rule.
Comparative negligence is an approach adopted by most states in the country. It means that the contribution of each party involved (or at least two) is evaluated. In other words, the negligence of both the truck driver and the passenger vehicle driver will be weighed to determine how much both can be held accountable for damages. In some states, if the person contributes to the negligence at all, they are no longer eligible to receive additional compensation. In other states, the percentage of their negligence may simply affect how much compensation they get, such as if they contributed 25%, they would get less compensation than if they had not contributed at all.
The two main types of comparative negligence include:
- Pure: The plaintiff will have their damages totaled, then reduced to reflect their contribution to the accident and/or damage related to the crash.
- Modified: Plaintiff will only recover if they are less than 50% responsible. If they are equally or more responsible, they will not be able to recover.
For instance, under the Texas proportionate comparative fault scheme, even when severely injured, a truck accident victim can be barred from recovering if they are found to be 51% or more at fault. If they fall under that threshold, their recovery can still be reduced in proportion to the degree of their fault. So, if you suffer $1 million in damages, and you are 40% at fault, your recovery will be limited to $400,000. If you are determined to have been 51% or more at fault for the accident, it will be difficult to recover any funds.
Truck Accidents Are on the Rise
Today, manufacturers and business are under increased pressure to reduce delivery times in the consumer-driven market. As a direct result, the trucking industry has become more prominent on the roads, resulting in more truck accidents. In fact, the number of people who died in large truck crashes was 31% higher in 2019 than in 2009. Unfortunately, these trucking crashes can be particularly serious due to the truck’s weight, size, and speed, leading to devastating injuries.
Based on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2019 alone, there were 181,929 large truck accidents, resulting in 98,007 serious injuries and 5,337 fatalities. Nationwide, 71% of people killed in large-truck crashes in 2019 were occupants of other vehicles. In 2020, there were 155,585 large truck accidents that resulted in 76,705 injuries and 4,751 deaths. This indicates that on average, every single day there are about 460 crashes, 240 injuries, and 14 fatalities.
The factors that increase the likelihood of truck crashes include poor truck braking capability, resulting in brakes that take 20-40% longer to stop, truck driver fatigue from increased work demands, and distracted truck drivers with common technology. Further, the mere weight of the trucks makes crashes not only more likely, but more dangerous. These large trucks are in the weight category of 10,000 to 14,000 pounds, and tractor-trailers can exceed up to 26,000 pounds. When loaded, these vehicles can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds, compared to the average car weighing 4,000 pounds.
From the tens of thousands of injuries occurring from these truck accidents, the most common injuries include: broken bones, back and neck injuries, spinal cord damage, whiplash, internal bleeding, and head trauma. In most cases, victims of such injuries require immediately medical attention and some individuals will have to undergo multiple surgeries. Despite these common injuries and even deaths, trucking companies and insurance companies will often negotiate a settlement offer that is far less than the fair value of the claim.
States with the most fatal trucking accidents in 2019, from FMCSA-FARS:
- Texas – 678 accidents, 671 fatalities
- California – 406 accidents, 429 fatalities
- Florida – 360 accidents, 368 fatalities
- Georgia – 206 accidents, 217 fatalities
- Ohio – 189 accidents, 179 fatalities
- Pennsylvania – 183 accidents, 142 fatalities
- North Carolina – 171 accidents, 165 deaths
Here are a few helpful truck driver employment facts:
- There are more than 3.5 million employed truck drivers in the U.S.
- 90% of truck drivers are men
- Truckers drive an estimated 140 billion miles every year, collectively
Here are a few statistics regarding the trucking industry:
- The number of trucking businesses in the U.S. grew 15.9% from 2012 to 2016, outpacing growth across all industries (8%). U.S. Census Bureau
- More than 14,226,062 large trucks and buses registered in the U.S.
Finally, the number of trucking accidents by speed limit:
- ~33% in 50-55 mph zones
- ~20% in 60-65 mph zones
- ~19% in the 70-75 mph zones
How Our Team of Texas Trucking Accident Lawyers Can Help
If you have questions following the serious injury of yourself or a loved one caused by an accident with an 18-wheeler or other large truck, a truck accident lawyer can help you get answers. Our firm can investigate the details of an accident, as well as the truck driver's history, the truck's maintenance history, and many more factors to determine who is at fault and where responsibility for the accident and resultant injuries lies. Then we can help you claim fair and just compensation for your loss, holding those who are responsible accountable in court.
Schedule a free case evaluation when you call (888) 493-1629!