The U.S. economy relies heavily on goods being transported from manufacturers and producers to the consuming public. Today, we rely on trucks to transport roughly 70 percent of all the freight that travels within our country. Trucks deliver foods, consumer products, mail, documents, parcels, chemicals, waste products, building materials, and more. The trucking industry is a large one, forming the backbone of our economy; and as the economy grows, so does the number of trucks on the nation’s highways. More than 15.5 million trucks operate on US highways; of these, at least two million are huge tractor-trailer trucks. While this has some obviously positive aspects, the negative side of the coin is that as the number of trucks increases, so does the number of accidents.
Large trucks on the highway can feel quite intimidating to others on the road, and with good reason. When accidents occur, catastrophic injuries and fatalities are common, especially when larger trucks are involved in crashes with passenger cars, motorcycles, smaller trucks, bikes, or pedestrians.
When accidents occur, more often than not it is because of either some error on the part of the truck’s driver or negligence on the part of the trucking company, maintenance and repair contractor, or inspector. Less often, a defect in the truck or one of its components, attributable to a manufacturer, may be the cause; and in some instances, a road hazard caused by another party –for example the government agency or their contractor responsible for the maintenance of the road—may be to blame.
You may be reading this because you or a member of your family was involved in an accident in Texas with a truck and sustained serious injuries or died, and you are wondering how to proceed. Accidents involving commercial trucks are seldom straightforward. Resolving a legal case against a trucking company is complex and demanding, so you will need to hire a Texas truck accident attorney to work with you when you make your claim to be compensated for your losses. This is something you should never attempt without competent, experienced legal counsel, or you may easily find yourself shortchanged. In fact, you should never make a statement to an insurance adjuster or sign anything unless your lawyer instructs you to do so.
In Austin, Texas, you will find the quality representation you need to recover an amount of money sufficient to cover all of your financial and quality-of-life damages by calling the law firm of Briggle & Polan, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation with a well experienced Austin truck accident attorney.
Truck Accident Statistics in the United States and Texas
Nationwide Truck Accident Statistics: Government statistics lag by several years, so today’s figures may be higher than those most recently reported by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to the NHTSA, truck accidents were responsible for close to 4,000 deaths nationwide in 2013; an additional 100,000 people were injured that year in accidents involving large commercial trucks.
Texas Truck Accident Statistics: The Texas Department of Transportation’s most recent statistics for 2013 show that in that year, 29,498 truck crashes resulted in 535 deaths, 1417 incapacitating injuries, and 4,404 non-incapacitating injuries. In addition, the Department believes that other injuries occurred which were not reported and therefore were omitted from the tally.
These numbers represent a large toll in human loss, suffering, and pain. Most of the injuries and fatalities were avoidable and attributable to negligence or error on the part of the trucking company or driver. Victims have the right to claim compensation for their losses, both economic and non-economic. Although there is no adequate compensation for the lost life of a loved one or for the loss of one’s health, the money you recover can help to restore a better quality of life moving forward and to get your medical bills and living expenses paid.
Insurance Coverage Required of Truckers by Law
Commercial trucks are required by state and federal law to carry substantial liability insurance policies. Your attorney will determine the available coverage for the vehicle that hit you and for any third parties who might share in the liability for your accident. If you have sustained a serious injury or a member of your family has been killed by a commercial truck, there is usually plenty of insurance coverage to pay you the compensation you deserve. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to settle your claim fairly. The insurance companies for all parties will be likely to vigorously oppose your claim, and in many cases defendants will attempt to place the fault for the accident on you or the driver of the car in which you or your family member was a passenger. When third parties are involved, there may be litigation among the parties, each trying to deny responsibility and lay the blame on the other.
At Briggle & Polan, PLLC, we are committed to obtaining an appropriate recovery for you that fully reflects the fair value of all of your damages, both economic and non-economic. When you retain us to represent you, we will handle all negotiations with the insurers, working tirelessly to protect your rights and making certain that every party who shared in the responsibility for your damages pays.
The Austin accident attorneys at Briggle & Polan have an impressive record of success in holding negligent truckers, trucking companies, and third parties liable and bringing in settlements and verdicts that make a significant difference in the lives of our injured and bereaved clients. As a result, we have been honored as Texas Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, two designations of excellence in the legal community.
Types of Trucks that Cause Accidents
Commercial trucks of various types can cause accidents. These are some of the types that are most often responsible for serious injuries and fatalities:
- Tractor-trailer trucks with a tractor containing the truck’s cab attached to a trailer, which holds the cargo. A fully-loaded tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, so these monsters are capable doing serious bodily damage to a person in a much lighter passenger vehicle. Also known as semi-trucks, big rigs, and 18-wheelers, tractor-trailer trucks are regulated by both federal and Texas state law. The law requires specific training for semi drivers and dictate strict rules regarding maximum hours on the road, detailed record-keeping, weight limits for loads, schedules for maintenance and inspection, and mandatory liability insurance coverage.
- Tanker trucks are tractor-trailer trucks that carry liquids or gases, which may be flammable or toxic, for example petroleum, propane, and various hazardous chemicals or waste products, creating additional dangers to people in the surrounding area if a fire or release of toxic chemicals should occur. If a tank containing a liquid cargo is under-filled—less than three-quarters full—the sloshing of the liquid can cause an imbalance that has the potential to cause the driver to lose control, making the tanker roll over, especially if the driver must apply the brakes abruptly in an emergency.
- Courier trucks, such as the fleets owned by FEDEX, DHL, UPS, and others, which deliver packages to homes and businesses come in various sizes and styles, from panel trucks to large delivery vans to semi-trucks. These major couriers typically operate across state lines, and are subject to regulation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Texas state law regulates courier trucks that operate locally within the state exclusively.
- Flatbed trucks have a flat, unenclosed platform on which to carry cargo, often large pieces of machinery, logs, or construction materials, which if not tied down securely can fall off and cause injury or death.
- Cement mixers are extremely heavy trucks used in construction. They tend to be top-heavy with a high center of gravity, making them subject to rolling over, which can crush anything or anyone unlucky enough to be nearby, causing catastrophic or fatal injuries in many cases. Backing up without properly checking blind spots also poses a danger to workers on the construction site where a cement mixer is operating.
- Dump trucks are powerful, heavy vehicles that carry loose materials like gravel, soil, or sand in an open container with a hinge mechanism allows the driver to tilt the container to dump the load. Like cement mixers, they are often used in construction. Dump trucks can cause significant damage in a crash. They are hard to see around, so the driver needs to make the effort to check the blind spot when backing up to avoid hitting a worker, pedestrian, cyclist, or other vehicle. In addition, if the driver does not check behind the truck carefully before dumping the load, the material can fall on a person, causing serious injury.
- Garbage or sanitation trucks pick up trash from both residential neighborhoods and business locations, which is then disposed of in landfills or recycling centers. Sanitation trucks are sometimes owned by the town or city in which they operate, or may belong to a waste removal company under contract with a municipality. Garbage trucks stop, start, back up, and turn around frequently, often in tight areas where people live and work, making them a danger to pedestrians and other vehicles parked in the area.
Causes of Truck Accidents
In the trucking industry, time equals money. The more work completed or the more goods delivered in the shortest time, the bigger the profits. Companies often expect their drivers to adhere to tight schedules. This may mean that they need to drive faster and for longer hours than the law allows, or than is safe, increasing the potential for an accident to occur.
Large truck, because of their size, are more prone to serious accidents than passenger cars or other smaller vehicles. Some of the reasons are that they are difficult to maneuver, they require a large area to turn, they have larger blind spots, and they take a longer time to stop once the brakes are applied.
As previously stated, the majority of truck accidents are the result of some error, oversight, or negligence on the part of the driver or owner, but they can also be caused by defective equipment, road hazards, and so forth. Some causes of truck accidents that can be attributed to negligence include these:
- Improper training of drivers
- Failing to properly balance the load
- Carrying a load that exceeds weight limits for the truck
- Neglecting to secure the truck’s cargo properly, allowing it to shift and create instability
- Failing to properly attach the trailer to the tractor
- Use of alcohol or of drugs, whether illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter
- Driving while fatigued from driving too many hours without rest, which is in violation of federal law
- Distracted driving, including texting, cell phone use, rubbernecking, eating or drinking while driving, and other behaviors that divert attention from the road
- Missing required maintenance and inspections
- Under-filling liquid cargo tanks
- Backing, passing, or changing lanes and without checking blind spots
- Ignoring traffic regulations, signage, and signals
- Defective equipment or parts
- Failing to maintain, inflate properly, or inspect tires, causing blowouts
- Missing or inadequate underride guards
- Hazardous road construction sites
- Obstacles or debris in the road
Frequent Types of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents can occur in various ways. These are a few:
- A jackknife is a type of accident specific to tractor-trailer trucks in which a trailer, often an empty one, rides up onto the cab at an angle, resembling a partly opened pocket knife. It can be caused by caused abrupt braking, turning too sharply, equipment failure, or road conditions causing a skid and loss of control, often precipitating accidents involving other vehicles on the road.
- Head-on crashes are the most serious and deadly of all crash types, but this is especially true when one of the colliding vehicles is a truck weighing tens of thousands of pounds. When a truck crashes front-to-front with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction, fatalities are likely, with any survivors frequently suffering spinal cord injuries, paralysis, brain damage, massive organ damage, and other catastrophic injuries. Head-ons are usually caused by a driver who is intoxicated or over-tired from too many hours on the road.
- Rear-end crashes, when a heavy truck hits the rear of another vehicle traveling the same way, are nearly always caused by a trucker who is tailgating. Trucks are slow to stop, so a driver needs to maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles on the road.
- Underride accidents are those in which a lower-to-the-road vehicle drives into the rear of a large truck, often when the truck has stopped or slowed suddenly. The smaller vehicle goes under the truck, which usually shears off the top portion of the car and kills its driver.
- Side collisions or t-bone accidents occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another one. This commonly occurs at an intersection where the truck driver ignores a traffic light or stop sign. It can also happen when a truck makes a turn into the side of a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction.
- A sideswipe is kind of side-impact collision between two vehicles traveling in the same direction, usually when one changes lanes without signaling.
- Rollovers can happen when a truck is under-loaded or empty, or when the cargo shifts around because it has not been properly tied down. Rollovers often follow a jackknife, or they may occur when a truck driver goes around sharp curve at an excessive speed. Sometimes a truck will roll over when it has been struck by another large vehicle.
- Hazmat spills and fires are most often associated with tanker trucks. They occur when flammable substances or toxic materials leak from the truck’s tank, often caused by a collision, jackknife, or roll-over.
Types of Truck Accident Injuries
Truck accidents cause some of the most catastrophic injuries and often result in fatalities. Injury types include, among others:
- Paralyzing spinal cord damage
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Amputation injuries
- Severe burns
- Disfiguring facial injuries
- Blindness or deafness
- Injuries to internal organs with internal bleeding
- Nerve damage
- Herniated discs and other neck and back injuries
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Chronic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD and other psychological trauma
Damages You May Be Entitled to Recover
If you are able to prove that negligence on the part of the truck driver, trucking company, and/or some third party caused your accident and are able to prove your damages, you are entitled to recover compensation for both your economic and non-economic losses. Economic damages are those that you can prove with bills and receipts: medical expenses, lost wages, household help for tasks you are no longer able to perform, the cost of prescription medication and assistive medical devices, and any other expenses that you would not have had were it not for the accident.
Your non-economic damages are harder to quantify because they are losses on which it is impossible to place a dollar value: pain, suffering, disfigurement, disability, loss of enjoyment of your life, loss of consortium, and even inconvenience. These vary from person to person and in part reflect what you most enjoyed in your life before the accident that you can no longer do.
In the case of a wrongful death of a close family member, certain close relatives—usually a spouse, parent, or child—may recover money for loss of the care, support, and guidance the deceased would have provided, for mental anguish and emotional suffering, for loss of love and companionship, and for loss of inheritance that the person would have received had the deceased lived out his or her full life expectancy.
In addition, in a very limited number of cases where the defendant has displayed a willful and blatant disregard for the life or well-being of an accident victim, a jury may award exemplary damages, which are called punitive damages in other jurisdictions, designed not to compensate the victim but to punish the defendant. Exemplary damages might be assessed in a drunk driving accident where the defendant’s blood alcohol content was exceptionally high when the accident occurred.
Bring an Austin Truck Accident Attorney on Board from the Start
Trucking companies often have mitigation teams on call to rush to the scene of an accident and look for ways in which to deny responsibility and avoid paying large claims. You need your own advocate to counter these efforts and to fight on your behalf against these wealthy corporations and/or their insurers. The earlier you bring Briggle & Polan on board, the sooner we will be able to launch our investigation into the crash in order to protect your right to a recovery. We know the law, and we understand how both state and federal regulations affect each accident case.
It is important to begin investigating immediately after the crash if possible. Our Austin truck accident attorneys will examine the truck’s “black box,” check the driver’s record for prior accidents and substance abuse, investigate the trucking company’s training and loading procedures, examine maintenance procedures and inspection reports, and call upon accident reconstruction experts to study the accident scene and analyze road conditions, skid marks, and other evidence. We will interview witnesses and look for possible third-parties who may have contributed to the accident. Over time, evidence may disappear and witnesses may move away or forget relevant details. It is essential to begin assembling the facts and building a case while the evidence is still fresh.
In many cases, we can negotiate a settlement without your ever having to go to court. But it is important to know that we are trained, experienced, and seasoned trial lawyers who are prepared to present a persuasive case to a jury when necessary. Some lawyers are uncomfortable in the courtroom, but when a trial is needed to get you the money you deserve, the attorneys of Briggle & Polan, PLLC, are always willing and prepared to fight it out in court
Free, No-Obligation Consultation from an Austin Truck Accident Attorney
For vigorous, skilled, and aggressive legal representation in your Texas truck accident case, don’t delay; call our Austin truck accident attorney team at Briggle & Polan as soon as you can. There is never a charge for your initial consultation—even if you don’t hire us. And you’ll never have any out-of-pocket expenses. We do not charge you upfront for the time or financial outlay that we put into investigating and building your case. If for any reason you do not receive a monetary award, you will owe us absolutely nothing. You have much to gain and nothing to lose in your pursuit of the justice that is rightfully yours. But don’t wait too long or you could lose your right to recover money. Texas limits the amount of time you have to file your claim. Call us now so we can begin the process of preparing a rock-solid case for you. Justice is your right. Pick up the phone and call us today.