While any type of Texas car accident can easily result in serious injury, trucking accidents can be especially treacherous given the massive size of these vehicles.
Without a doubt, trucking accidents have the potential to cause severe harm to anyone involved. And, while this harm may only amount to bruises and cuts for some, it can just as easily escalate to something more serious, such as neck and back injuries, or even death.
Unfortunately, Texas is no stranger to the dangers of trucking accidents. In fact, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, during 2012 alone there were 26,403 accidents on Texas roadways involving commercial motor vehicles, which include 18-wheeler trucks as well as delivery trucks, and others.
Holding negligent Texas truck drivers responsible for trucking accidents
Often times, truckers find themselves stretched to the limits as they rush to make deliveries. Given these strict deadlines, many truckers continue to drive even though they may be fatigued or mentally drained. Sadly, more fatigued truck drivers on the road merely increases the risk of trucking accidents along the routes they traverse – particularly in states like Texas, which has several highways that serve as major trade routes, including those that run in and out of Mexico.
Thankfully, in order to combat truck driver fatigue, the federal government has established various regulations limiting how long a trucker can remain in the driver’s seat without taking a break. In fact, just last summer these regulations were amended to help ensure truck drivers get enough rest while working. For instance, two recently created federal regulations dictate that truck drivers must now take a 30 minute break during the first eight hours of their shift and cannot have a maximum average workweek of over 70 hours, according to the federal agency that created the regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Unfortunately, despite these regulations, many truck drivers continue to push themselves farther than their bodies will allow – or the law permits. However, innocent motorists need to be aware that they may be able to seek damages if they are injured by fatigued truck drivers who should have been resting instead of behind the wheel.
Additionally, trucking accident victims may be able to seek compensation if a distracted truck driver has injured them, especially if the trucker was distracted by his or her cellphone at the time of the accident. Indeed, the FMCSA has actually promulgated a regulation prohibiting commercial drivers from texting while driving.
Can Texas trucking companies be liable for drivers’ accidents?
Importantly, responsibility for trucking accidents does not always end with the driver. Sometimes, liability can extend to the employers of drivers under the legal doctrine known as “respondeat superior.” Essentially, the theory of respondeat superior states that employers are vicariously liable for any negligent acts their employees commit while acting in the scope of their employment – even if the employers themselves have not personally acted wrongly. The basic idea is that liability should be imposed upon employers since they have the right to control the “means and methods” of a driver’s work.
In order to establish that a truck driver was acting within the scope of employment at the time of an accident, a victim must be able to show that the driver’s actions were:
Within the authority given to the driver by his or her employer
In furtherance of the employer’s business
For the accomplishment of the object for which the employee was employed
Interestingly, many employers attempt to eliminate the possibility of vicarious liability by hiring their drivers as independent contractors. However, just because a truck driver is considered an independent contractor does not mean an employer, such as a trucking company, can never be liable following a trucking accident. For instance, depending on the circumstances, individuals injured in a Texas trucking accident may also be able to pursue a negligent hiring claim against the driver’s employer, regardless of whether the driver is an independent contractor or not.
Specifically, a trucking company can be liable for negligent hiring if it hires an unfit or incompetent employee that it knows – or would have known had it exercised reasonable care – was unfit or incompetent, which in turn creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others. In the case of truck drivers, an employer has a duty to investigate the driver’s competency to drive, such as reviewing their driving records. If a trucking company ultimately hires a driver that is unqualified or has an unsafe driving record, it may face liability if the driver ever injures an innocent victim on the road.
Moreover, a trucking company may be held accountable for any injuries that result due to its inability to maintain its trucks in working order. This may include a trucking company’s failure to prevent brake failure as well as ensuring proper tire and engine maintenance, just to name a few.
Seek legal assistance if injured in a trucking accident
Unfortunately, given the complexities of the law surrounding Texas trucking accidents, this article is barely able to scratch the surface of what victims need to know if they are injured in a collision with an 18-wheeler or any other type of truck. Consequently, if you or a love one has suffered due to a trucking accident, it is often best to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can review the circumstances of your accident and help determine what damages you may be entitled given your situation.