Tractor-trailers are enormous vehicles—the largest on the road. While large commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) are often colloquially called “18-wheelers,” tractor-trailers can have up to 30 wheels. While their very size makes them ideal for bringing products to businesses and consumers throughout the state, it also makes them potentially lethal. An accident involving one could result in death or catastrophic injuries.
In fact, large commercial trucks, of which tractor-trailers constitute a significant portion, were responsible for 536 fatalities, 1,367 serious injuries, and 4,880 non-incapacitating injuries in our state alone during a recent year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Nationwide, 67 percent of large truck accident fatalities are occupants of passenger cars, while 15 percent are motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians.
Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are particularly at risk of tractor-trailer accidents simply because of the large number that traverses the highways and byways. Trucks are everywhere. Contact one of our experienced Corpus Chrisit truck accident attorneys to answer your legal questions.
What Rights Do I if I Was Injured in a Tractor-Trailer Accident?
Most people live in fault states. If you are one of them, and a truck accident injures you due to the fault of another party, you may seek compensation from that party.
Under the law, victims can seek damages in the following categories:
- Medical bills, both already incurred and prospective.
- These include bills for treatment, including emergency room visits, ambulances, doctor’s visits, hospitalization, urgent care, surgery, prescription medication, rehabilitative therapy, retrofitting your home to accommodate your injuries, assistive devices such as canes, and more.
- Lost wages due to the accident itself and the injury treatment, both already incurred and prospective.
- Loss of future earning capacity, if you can no longer perform previous job duties because of your injuries.
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Note that this would require another party to bear fault for the accident because you would be seeking damages from that party. The law for personal injury often turns on the concept of negligence. Parties involved in an accident generally owe what the law terms a “duty of care” to the public. Drivers, for example, owe a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely, drive carefully and within the law, and obtain appropriate licenses and training.
A failure to exercise the duty of care is a breach of duty of care. Parties that breach the duty of care are arguably negligent. Negligence means the party may be liable, or financially responsible, for injuries suffered in the accidents they caused.
How Do I Seek Damages for My Injuries?
Injured people can seek damages in two ways.
The first is a third-party insurance claim, in which you’d file a claim for your injuries with the negligent party’s insurance company. They review your claim, may ask for more information, and may settle your claim.
The second is to bring a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
These two methods are not mutually exclusive. You may, for instance, start with a third-party claim and proceed to a personal injury suit if the settlement terms the insurance carrier offers seem unjust. You are also not obligated to go through insurance carriers and may proceed directly to a personal injury suit.
People injured by a tractor-trailer accident need to know that insurance claims in truck accidents are often complicated because:
- First, many individual parties can cause or contribute to a tractor-trailer accident. For instance, if the accident was caused by one of the trailers decoupling and striking your car, an investigation would be required to determine who or what could have been responsible for the decoupling. The driver, the trucking company, subcontractors, or mechanics could bear responsibility together or individually. Identification of the responsible party would need to occur first.
- Second, each potentially responsible party in truck accidents may carry insurance with different insurance carriers. Each policy may have different provisions, all of which can get very complicated.
- Third, insurance companies often adopt informal policies to minimize or deny third-party claims. While this may be true of any insurance company, truck insurance carriers often adopt this practice. These informal policies are frequently characterized by observers as “defend, deny, defer” tactics.
If possible, insurance companies may try to paint other parties as responsible. They may try to argue that the nature and extent of your injuries are different than you claim. They often characterize events, such as a delay in seeing a doctor, as evidence that your injuries are not as serious as you say. They may make incorrect characterizations, but that may not stop the insurance company from using them.
Finally, they may delay paying out claims. How could that help a profit-seeking insurance company? They may hope you will grow so frustrated that you give up. They may prey on your guilt about stacks of unpaid bills. They may even bet that you will forget about it. Meanwhile, they’re making money on the investment of the premiums that they’re not paying you.
It does not help that some aspects of your claim are subjective. Pain and suffering, for example, is not subject to quantifiable bills like medical expenses are. They can minimize your pain and suffering, and most people do not know that they could negotiate for more.
Because of these potential complications, it is advisable to contact an experienced truck accident attorney. They understand the benefit of an investigation after a truck accident. In fact, they can, and often do, aid in the investigation. They could ask for relevant truck company and driver records, because they know what records commonly exist (for example, inspection, maintenance, and repair logs; driver schedules; training and testing information for drivers; and road and weather information). They could work with forensic investigators to establish why the accident occurred.
They may also discuss the pros and cons of bringing a lawsuit. Third-party claims are heard only by the insurance companies that may have to pay the claims, while lawsuits are heard by impartial judges and juries.
What Rights Do I Have if My Loved One Was Killed in a Tractor-Trailer Accident?
When we discuss personal injury claims and suits, of course, we are talking about injury. But what if your loved one died as a result of a tractor-trailer accident?
While money cannot repay you for the death of a loved one, you could recover damages related to the death. Wrongful death suits are somewhat similar to personal injury suits in that an at-fault party for the accident must exist. Instead of a person compensated for injuries, however, a wrongful death suit is aimed toward compensating both the estate and loved ones for the resulting damages and harm.
Under the state’s wrongful death statute, specific survivors are entitled to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of all survivors. You may have a legal right to file such a suit if you are:
- A surviving spouse: You may recover damages if you and the deceased person were legally married. You may also recover if you were separated or approaching divorce, but not if a divorce was finalized
- A child of the deceased person
- A parent of the deceased person
- An executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate: If the survivors have not filed a wrongful death suit within three months of the death, the deceased person’s legal representative may file, unless all of the survivors request otherwise
Survivors may seek damages for losses they sustained from their loved one’s death. The potential damage categories include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of companionship and love
- Loss of services
- Loss of financial support
- Family grief and emotional losses
A Survival Action
The law also allows for loved ones to pursue a claim called a survival action. This occurs when a loved one dies as a consequence of the accident, but not immediately. Under a survival action, heirs, legal representatives, and the deceased person’s estate may receive damages that the deceased person could have received in a personal injury claim, had they survived.
Plaintiffs may seek the following damages under a survival action:
- Lost income
- Medical bills
- Surgical expenses
- Prosthetic devices and structures
- Scar revision
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of bodily functions
- Diminishment of family and spousal relationships
- Emotional distress
How Do I Seek Wrongful Death Or Survival Action Damages?
To bring either a wrongful death suit or survival action, you should seek advice from an attorney.
Who Is Potentially Responsible in a Tractor-Trailer Accident?
Since truck accidents can stem from the actions (or inactions) of multiple potentially responsible parties, your lawyer will want to explore the duties of care that everyone owed you, and whether they failed in those duties.
- Truck drivers are responsible for driving safely and obeying traffic laws. They must also obtain an appropriate commercial driver’s license (CDL) as well as any other relevant licenses and endorsements. In addition, truckers are often required to submit to periodic testing for alcohol and illegal substances, periodically inspect and note the condition of the truck and the load, keep logbooks, and perform other duties. Failure to do any of these is a potential breach of the duty of care.
- Truck companies are responsible for maintaining the safe condition of the trucks, hiring qualified drivers with a CDL and other appropriate licenses, periodically testing drivers for alcohol and illegal substances, periodically inspecting and repairing the trucks, following all relevant Federal, state, and local laws and regulations, and more. Failure to do any of these is a potential breach of the duty of care.
- Inspection, maintenance, and repair companies are responsible for federally-mandated inspection, maintenance, and repair of truck fleets if they are hired to do so by the owners. Failure to inspect, maintain, and repair properly is a potential breach of the duty of care.
- Loading and packing companies are responsible for safely loading and packing cargo. Trucks can become unbalanced and more prone to accidents if: they are overweight, if cargo is unbalanced, or if it moves during the haul. Failure to do any of these is a potential breach of the duty of care.
- Other subcontractors are responsible for the duties they are hired to do. Trucking companies may, for instance, hire subcontractors to check driver qualifications or to test them. Failure to do any of these is a potential breach of the duty of care.
- Manufacturers of trucks or component parts are responsible for the production of appropriately safe and working products and parts. Making and supplying defective parts or failing to alert companies of a recall of defective and unsafe products and parts are potential breaches of the duty of care.
- Other drivers are responsible for driving safely and obeying traffic laws. Failure to do so is a potential breach of the duty of care.
What Are the Most Common Tractor-Trailer Accidents?
Tractor-trailers are subject to many types of accidents. The following are some of the most common.
- A decoupling – Tractor-trailers are linked by multiple devices, such as hitches and couplers. Decoupling occurs when the linkage fails. Part of the tractor-trailer can hit other vehicles, passersby, or fly into other lanes.
- A jackknife – A jackknife occurs when part of the tractor-trailer is perpendicular to the other half, like an opened jackknife. Jackknife accidents are potentially caused by speeding, poor and rapid braking, or weather conditions.
- A rollover – A rollover occurs when a truck rolls over, either partly or completely. Like jackknifes, speeding, braking, and weather conditions can all cause rollovers. Trucks are prone to rollovers because of their high centers of gravity.
- Collisions – Collisions with another vehicle can occur at the front of the vehicles (a head-on collision), the rear (a rear-end collision), or the side (a broadside collision). Collisions can occur for many reasons, including speeding, failure to obey traffic laws, carelessness, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, distraction, and drowsiness.
If you need further information, contact a truck accident attorney who can evaluate your case, answer your questions, and help you to decide what to do next.