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How Is Fault Determined in a Truck Accident?

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How Is Fault Determined in a Truck Accident?

Determining fault in a truck accident involves answering a few key questions, including:

  • What evidence is available?
  • What parties behaved negligently?
  • Are there multiple negligent parties?
  • Can you link a party’s negligence to the injured person’s damages?

Answering these questions begins with gathering evidence, which can include the following:

  • Event data recorders (black boxes)
  • Traffic camera footage
  • Eyewitness interviews
  • Drivers’ logs
  • Expert input
  • Images of the crash scene
  • Police reports
  • Medical records
  • Other evidence relevant to the accident

Once gathered, a legal team can slot these pieces of evidence into the elements of negligence.

What Are the Elements of Negligence?

The elements of negligence are a legal framework that applies to personal injury cases, like truck accidents. Injured parties must prove four elements to show how a party is at fault for an accident.

This is how these elements work in practice in a real-world truck accident example:

  • The liable party owed the injured person a duty of care: Truckers and trucking companies owe other roadway users a duty of care. This duty means one is responsible for keeping others from harm. By law, truck drivers must take mandated rest breaks as part of their duty of care.
  • The liable party breached this duty of care: In this example, the truck driver fell asleep, swerved into oncoming traffic, and struck another driver. The truck driver fell asleep because his employer encouraged him to ignore mandated driving breaks, meaning the trucking company breached its duty of care.
  • The breach of duty caused an accident that injured another driver: The evidence shows that the trucking company’s negligent behavior injured another driver. Had the trucking company ensured their driver took adequate breaks, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
  • The injured driver suffered damages: Through medical records, expenses, and other evidence, the injured driver can show they suffered compensatory damages.

In this example, because all the elements of negligence apply, the trucking company is at fault. When an individual or party is at fault, they are responsible for the harm they caused. The injured driver, in this case, could pursue a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault trucking company.

Why Is Fault Important in a Truck Accident?

Fault is critical because truck accident claims and lawsuits hinge on negligence. To win, you must prove another party behaved negligently and caused your injuries. Negligent behaviors that can cause truck accident injuries include the following:

  • A trucking company hiring a driver who has an unsafe driving record
  • A trucking company encouraging their drivers to ignore safety regulations, such as mandatory driving breaks
  • A trucking company failing to conduct drug testing
  • A trucker drinking and driving
  • A trucker distracted driving
  • A shipping company overloading a commercial vehicle, such as a truck

Lawyers rely on evidence and the elements of negligence to uncover these behaviors and link them to a specific party. This way, they know who’s liable (owes compensation) for their client’s injuries.

Identifying an at-fault party isn’t always a straightforward matter, which highlights the importance of conducting a thorough investigation after a truck accident.

Can Trucking Companies Be at Fault?

In Texas, due to vicarious liability, trucking companies can be liable for their employees’ actions. According to the State Bar of Texas, vicarious liability “is a legal doctrine holding an employer liable for an employee’s wrongful acts committed within the scope of employment.”

The scope of employment describes activities directly related to a trucker’s job, which include:

  • Driving to and from shipment destinations
  • Loading and unloading cargo
  • Other required activities to complete a job

The scope of employment doesn’t include activities not sanctioned by an employer, like taking a truck for a joyride. Therefore, for an employer to be liable, the relevant truck accident must occur while the trucker was on the clock and using company property for its intended purpose.

Truck Driving Regulations

Two essential Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations apply to truck drivers:

  • Hours of service regulations
  • Drugs and alcohol testing

Hours of Service Regulations

Truckers must limit the hours they drive before taking a break:

  • 14-hour limit: Truckers cannot drive beyond the 14th hour of coming on duty. For example, if a driver started working at 8 a.m., they couldn’t drive beyond 10 p.m. that day. They can complete other non-trucking work beyond this cutoff. Taking 10 hours off resets the 14-hour limit.
  • 11-hour driving limit: During these 14 hours, truckers can drive for a maximum of 11 hours.
  • 8-hour 30-minute break period: After 8 hours of consecutive driving, a trucker must take a 30-minute break.
  • 60-hour weekly limit: Truckers can only drive 60 hours weekly. To reset this limit, they can take a 34-hour break.
  • Inclement weather provision: Truckers can extend their two-hour driving limit by two hours if weather conditions are poor.

Under most circumstances, commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders must keep track of their hours in a logbook. In a truck accident case, a lawyer could use this log book as evidence – violating FMCSA hours-of-service regulations is a form of negligence.

Drugs and Alcohol Testing

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires employers to test their commercial driving employees in the following contexts:

  • Pre-employment: When a truck driver starts working for a new employer, the employer must subject them to a drug screening.
  • Reasonable/suspicion cause: If a commercial trucking employer suspects their employee is abusing substances on the job, they must initiate a drug testing protocol.
  • Random: Employers must issue random drug tests to commercial trucking employees throughout their employment.
  • Post-accident: After an accident, CDL drivers must take a drug test.

Federal law requires these drug test protocols. Failure to adhere to these protocols could indicate that the trucking company behaved negligently before an accident.

Truck Accident Damages

Within the scope of the law, there are two primary types of truck accidents:

  • Personal injury: Personal injury cases cover instances where an individual suffers catastrophic or debilitating injuries.
  • Wrongful death: Wrongful death cases involve fatalities linked to a trucker or trucking company’s negligence.

Standard types of damages in these cases include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Car repairs
  • Lost income
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Loss of companionship
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement

Our Team Is Here for Truck Accident Survivors

If you were in a Houston truck accident, a Dallas truck accident, or anywhere else in Texas, the Domingo Garcia team can review your case for free. We gather evidence and determine fault on your behalf. Call us today for a free consultation.

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    Attorney Domingo Garcia has led an active civic, legal and political career. He was born in Midland, Texas and grew up in Dallas, Texas. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Texas in 1980.

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