Big commercial trucks move basic consumer items and essential products to every town and city in this nation. Those trucks keep our economy afloat, but they also pose significant dangers to the traveling public.
In 2015, more than 3,800 people died in collisions with large trucks in the United States. Thousands sustained serious injuries.
But even when a truck driver is obviously at fault for a crash, it can be tough for a truck accident lawyer to determine who is liable – in a legal sense – for the damages.
WILL YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY AFTER A TRUCK ACCIDENT?
You are reading a brief introduction to truck accidents and liability in this state, but if you are the person who is injured in a truck collision in Texas, you’re going to need specific and personalized legal advice based on the details of your own case.
You will need to be advised and represented by a skilled personal injury attorney, and you will need to contact that attorney as quickly as possible if you are involved in a truck accident.
So who is liable for a truck accident in Texas? Can a trucking company be held accountable for a driver’s negligence?
WHAT IS VICARIOUS LIABILITY?
Under the legal principle of “vicarious liability,” a trucking company may be found liable after an accident for the negligence of a company truck driver, provided that the driver’s negligence was unintended and occurred within the “course and scope” of the driver’s duties.
However, if you are injured in an accident with a truck, you should know that what is considered within the “course and scope” of an employee’s job duties is interpreted very narrowly by the courts in this state.
If a truck driver injures you while that driver is making a scheduled delivery, for example, liability – vicarious liability – probably falls on the driver’s employer.
But if the driver wants some coffee and injures you while turning into the Starbucks parking lot, because a stop at Starbucks is not within the course and scope of the driver’s duties, vicarious liability probably will not apply, and the liability will probably be the truck driver’s alone.
HOW IS AN EMPLOYER’S VICARIOUS LIABILITY DETERMINED?
Vicarious liability transfers an employee’s liability to the employer, but in any particular accident, an employer’s vicarious liability will hinge on the answers to these questions:
1. Was the truck driver an employee or an independent contractor?
2. Was the careless behavior unintentional?
3. Did the carelessness occur “within the scope” of the driver’s duties?
If a truck driver is an independent contractor, vicarious liability probably will not apply. If no benefits are earned by the driver and if a driver’s taxes are not withheld, the driver is probably a contractor and not an employee.
HOW IS THE SCOPE OF A TRUCK DRIVER’S JOB DUTIES DETERMINED?
The more difficult issue is defining the “course and scope” of a driver’s employment duties. If a personal injury claim arising from a truck accident goes to trial, these factors will be considered:
1. the employee’s job description
2. the nature of the negligent behavior
3. the driver’s intention at the time
4. the level of discretion a driver has in the performance of job duties
A trucking company is almost never held liable if an employee intentionally causes harm – in a hate crime or road rage incident, for example. In such cases, the employee is well outside the scope of any job duties.
HOW IS THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY REGULATED IN TEXAS?
However, trucking in Texas is governed by a number of federal and state regulations. What trucks may carry, how many hours a driver may work, and the training a driver must receive are matters of law.
That means that if you are injured in traffic by a truck driver, any provable violation of the law by the driver or the company can be considered evidence of negligence.
WHAT OTHER PARTIES MAY HAVE LIABILITY IN TRUCK ACCIDENTS?
What makes truck accidents even more legally complicated is the possibility of multiple parties sharing liability – and becoming defendants if a lawsuit is filed. Along with the driver and the trucking company, others with potential liability in truck accidents include:
1. Parties that load the truck: Federal law requires cargo on trucks to be firmly secured. If a third party improperly loads cargo on a truck and an accident results, that third party may have liability.
2. Cargo manufacturers: Commercial trucks transport goods throughout every part of Texas. If those items are excessively dangerous, or if the trucking company or driver are not provided with adequate safety information, a cargo manufacturer may have liability.
3. Parties that maintain the truck: If a third party – other than the trucking company – is responsible for a truck’s routine maintenance, fails that responsibility, and an accident is the result, that party may have liability.
4. A truck manufacturer or parts manufacturer: If you are injured in an accident because a truck – or a vital truck part like brakes or tires – is defective or malfunctions, you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the vehicle or part.
Multiple defendants may each have a percentage of liability for their role in causing a truck accident with injuries. Particularly in Texas, it can get quite legally complicated.
WHAT IS REQUIRED IN A PERSONAL INJURY CASE?
In any personal injury case, an injury victim – the plaintiff – must offer evidence that the allegedly negligent party – the defendant – was negligent by acting carelessly or by failing to act responsibly.
In cases arising from traffic accidents, including truck accidents, a plaintiff must demonstrate not only that the defendant was negligent but also that the negligence was a direct cause of the plaintiff’s personal injury or injuries.
If you or someone you love is injured in a traffic accident with a commercial truck, get medical attention at once. Truck accident injuries tend to be catastrophic – when they’re not fatal.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES AFTER A TRUCK ACCIDENT?
While medical attention is your first priority, if you are injured in a truck accident, legal help should be your next priority. After you’ve been examined by a healthcare professional, discuss your case at once with an experienced San Antonio personal injury attorney.
In Texas, the injured victims of negligent drivers are entitled to complete compensation for their medical costs, lost wages, and all other accident-related damages.
If you have been injured by a negligent driver, compensation is your right. So is legal help, but you must make the choice to exercise those rights. Your future may depend on it.