Many semi-truck (“18 wheeler”) accidents can be tragic, often ending in permanent injury, paralysis, or even death. A semi- truck, and trailer can weigh an excess of 10,000 pounds. The force of a fully loaded truck is immense, even when traveling at slow speeds. Some people have the misconception that, if a person is engaged in a low-speed collision with minimal damage to their vehicle, no injuries should be expected in those involved. However, time and time again, it has been shown that injuries can and do occur in this type of accidents. Injuries are even more likely when an 18-wheeler is one of the vehicles involved in the collision due to the sheer weight and force of it.
Because of the potential for great harm to others, truck drivers are subject to higher standards of care than drivers of smaller vehicles, in other words, they have to be even more careful than you and me. There are several events that may lead a truck driver to cause an accident. These causes may include truck driver negligence or carelessness, trucking company’s negligence, and either truck driver and trucking company’s gross negligence. The best way to figure out what may have caused a trucking accident is to hire experienced truck accident lawyers. A good lawyer can subpoena records that may prove driver or trucking company’s negligence even before filing a lawsuit. Trucking companies and their drivers are protected by Commercial General Liability policies. When the truck driver is involved in an accident, the terms of those insurance policies generally provide a legal defense by hiring defense law firms, some of which are large firms comprised of many experienced lawyers. Moreover, some of these insurance companies will spare no cost in defense of their insured, typically trying to set a precedent to discourage injured people from suing truck drivers and their employers. That means that the defense firms hired will often try to “bury” the plaintiff’s lawyers in paperwork, filing numerous motions, and hiring some of the most expensive experts around the country. This is just one of the reasons why, if you or your loved ones were injured in a wreck with an 18-wheeler, you need to have a trucking accident lawyer on your side that will have the experience and resources to deal with big defense firms and the insurance companies that hire them.
Preservation of Evidence after a Truck Wreck
It is crucial to hire a trucking accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident involving an 18-wheeler. Evidence that will likely make or break your case usually is gone days, even hours after a crash. You want to hire a trucking attorney who, if he/she deems it necessary, will send a demand for preservation of evidence to the proper individuals or companies involved to avoid the intentional or unintentional destruction of evidence that you will later need for your case in court. Such evidence can include anything from the truck driver’s statement, to gauge marks on the road, to empty drug vials left in the truck’s cabin, to a GPS device, to video recordings at a gas station, or even the 18-wheeler’s “black box”. The demand to preserve evidence (also known as “no-spoliation demand”) will put the individuals in possession or control of the evidence on notice that they need to take affirmative steps to preserve the evidence needed for potential litigation. If they fail to do so, they may be sanctioned in court.
Nowadays, with the emergence of different electronic formats for maintaining photographs, video and audio recordings, and large amounts of data, as well as the development and prevalence of the internet and several social media sites, the plaintiff’s demand for preservation of evidence should address preservation of items and data that are in electronic format or kept online.
Another request that should be included within the no-spoliation demand is one for inspection of the vehicles involved. As you can imagine, when an 18-wheeler is involved in a collision, the injured party cannot simply show up at the trucking company’s location to take photographs and video. Further, many cases will require a download of the electronic control module (“ECM”) also known as “black box” of the 18-wheeler to be able to ascertain the speed of the truck before the crash or patterns of speed and breaks during the truck driver’s trip(s). Black box downloads are expensive, time-consuming and need to be performed by experts.
Texas’s Negligence Law and 18-Wheeler Accidents
When you are involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, Texas’s negligence laws almost always apply. To have a successful negligence claim, you must establish:
- That the driver of the 18-wheeler or the trucking company owed you a duty;
- The driver or the company breached this duty;
- The breach was the cause of the injuries; and
Texas law allows injured individuals recovery of different type of damages. Some of those damages include medical bills, physical pain and mental anguish (commonly known as “pain and suffering,” lost wages, loss of earning capacity, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of household services. One of the reasons why it is advisable to hire an experienced personal injury attorney is because each element of damages is legally defined and a lay person without any legal training will likely struggle to figure out what damages to ask for and whether or not it is a good strategy to ask for certain elements and not others. Further, an experienced attorney will provide invaluable insight into determining what a fair compensation is for each one of these elements.
Punitive or exemplary damages are sometimes available when the person or company at fault meets a legal standard for what Texas law considers conduct that warrants financial punishment. The remedy against someone who hurts another person in Texas is, in civil law, through financial compensation, as opposed to sending someone to jail. Punitive damages, when available, consist of money awarded to the injured person that is meant to punish and correct behavior by the person or company at fault that offends our community as a whole.
How Much Do I Have to Pay My Truck Accident Lawyer?
The short answer is: nothing. Most personal injury attorneys will work under agreements known as “contingency fee agreements”. Contingency agreements provide that a lawyer will not be paid unless and until there is a recovery. Their payment will not be from money out of your pocket, but rather it will come from the defendant’s pocket, meaning the person(s) who is at fault’s pocket. The lawyer will be paid a percentage of the recovery made on your behalf. Such percentage varies depending on at what stage of the process the recovery is made (either before filing a lawsuit or after) and on the type of case it is (for example, general negligence or product liability case). Attorneys will typically advance all of the expenses required to prosecute the case. These expenses vary depending on things such as the type of case it is and the part of the process during which a recovery is obtained. Simple personal injury cases that resolve before a lawsuit being filed will involve clerical costs such as making copies, paying for postage, extending fees to purchase medical records and bills, among others. Cases that resolve after the filing of a lawsuit are more expensive. Filing the lawsuit alone costs a couple of hundred dollars in most jurisdictions in Texas. Litigation will also likely involve other expenses such as those associated with taking depositions and obtaining records and documents in admissible form.
Personal injury cases in which an 18-wheeler is involved sometimes have higher expenses, as mentioned above. Experts may need to be hired, and inspection of the accident scene, vehicles involved, as well as background searches may be needed before filing a lawsuit. Most people who are involved in an accident have immediate losses such as out of pocket expenses to pay for doctor visits and lost wages. Therefore, people should benefit from having a personal injury attorney advance the added costs of prosecuting their case.
Can I Settle My Own Trucking Accident Case Without a Lawyer in Austin?
If the truck driver’s insurance company has extended an offer to settle with you, you could make the risky decision of settling without an attorney. Some people learn of the costs associated with having to pay lawyers a percentage of the recovery plus expenses. They worry that, in the end, there will not be enough money to compensate them fairly. That is a legitimate concern. However, an experienced personal lawyer should possess the know-how to prosecute your case in a way that will maximize the recovery above what you would have been able to obtain on your own. The goal will be that after the lawyer, the out-of-pocket expenses, and the medical costs are covered, the amount left will be more than sufficient to give the client a fair recovery.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a trucking accident, you should consult with an experienced attorney to learn more about the strategies that he or she may use in your case.
Some of the risks involved when a person chooses to settle without an attorney are the following:
- The recovery obtained may be lower than it could have been if a lawyer had been involved;
- A person may not be aware of certain amounts owed to medical providers you are not aware were involved or who delayed in sending you their bills such as radiologists or anesthesiologists;
- Some medical providers may not be entitled to recover the full amounts that they claim you owe them;
- Certain medical providers and health insurance companies are protected by law to recover the full amount billed; failing to pay them timely can result in a lien being filed against you which can affect your credit significantly as well as the ability to obtain health insurance in the future;
- You may not have the resources to learn all the negligent acts or omissions that a truck driver engaged in which could lead to a higher recovery;
- You could accept a recovery now and discover years later that your injuries are ongoing and that the amount for which you settled was insufficient to compensate you in full.
Accident or Incident?
You may have heard people referred to motor vehicle collisions as either “accidents” or “incidents”. Is there a difference? Though both words refer to the same occurrence, they connote different meanings. An accident is trying to describe an event for which nobody is at fault. It may be that a motor vehicle collision takes place and truly, neither one of the drivers is at fault. However, more often than not, what we refer to as accident is an incident. An experienced attorney conducting a good investigation of the facts should be able to show that the motor vehicle collision was not an accident. It was an incident that came about due to the at-fault driver’s conscious choices such as choosing to drive while intoxicated or choosing to text and drive. We will refer to motor vehicle collisions as “accidents” for convenience, but be aware of the distinction.
State and Federal Regulation of Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies
Most states and the federal government regulate 18-wheelers operation quite heavily. The commercial trucking industry is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), which covers the matters of a truck driver, trucking company, and commercial vehicle regulations. Additionally, Texas state law provides its rules and regulations. When combined, these regulations can be quite complex, which is why it is vital to hire truck accident lawyers who have experience fighting and winning against trucking companies in Texas courts.
Driver regulations include, but are not limited to, the number of hours the truck drivers can drive within a given period to avoid fatigued driving, the length and width of the truck’s trailer, the weight of the truck’s load, adequate maintenance, reasonable training, and their speed. In fact, the regulations go as far as dictating the type of reflective and warning devices a truck needs to use to warn others on the road when it is experiencing mechanical problems or break-down.
Furthermore, truck drivers must fill out both pre-trip and post-trip vehicle inspection reports. If you, the injured person, can show that the truck driver failed to meet a state and federal truck regulations, this may automatically establish a duty and breach of that duty, which are elements one and two of the negligence laws. The reason is that many of these regulations are in place precisely to prevent harm to the public that may end up being caused by the truck driver’s failure to comply.
Statute of Limitations on Trucking Cases
As in other claims, there is a statute of limitations regarding traffic accidents, including those involving 18-wheelers. Under Texas law, if you are injured in an accident, such as one involving an 18-wheeler, you must file your lawsuit within two years of your injury. If you fail to file your lawsuit within this time frame, you will most likely be barred from filing the lawsuit. Thus, you should adhere to this time-limitation strictly, but that is not the end of it. Many law firms will be required to perform a thorough investigation of your accident before deciding whether it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit. The type of investigation involved may take several months. Therefore, it is recommended that if you or your loved ones where injured in a trucking accident, you do not wait until the last minute to consult with an experienced attorney. You may be hurting the law firm’s ability to properly investigate the claim for you and prepare for litigation.