When 18-wheeler accidents occur they devastate victims and their families because of the large scale damage and severe injuries that frequently result. These accidents remain challenging to all involved because of their complexity, and victims typically have a long recovery time, if they recover at all.
With increased damages, large insurance policies, and often multiple parties, 18-wheeler accident cases require the expertise of a seasoned San Antonio 18-wheeler accident lawyer who knows how to navigate all of the elements and factors involved.
Increased Trucking Accidents in Texas
The Texas Department of Transportation (TDOT) estimates that semi-trailers and tractor trucks had almost 25,000 crashes on Texas roads in 2017. About 3,300 of those crashes resulted in injuries, some incapacitating, and 433 causing one or more fatalities. These alarming statistics only begin to paint a picture of trucking accidents in Texas.
With Texas’s growing population and economy, these numbers represent an increase from previous years. Continued industry and development in the Eagle Ford Shale development especially put South Texas motorists at risk of an 18-wheeler truck accident because of an increased number of trucks on the road.
As local news reports have highlighted, the danger posed on Texas roads and highways is real for those who must share the space with 18-wheelers.
What are the Common Causes of 18-Wheeler Accidents
Drivers of 18-wheelers are governed by special rules and regulations for commercial vehicles. They also have the same legal obligation as other drivers to drive carefully. Sometimes a trucking company’s poor maintenance or a truck or tire defect might lead to an accident. Other times, motor vehicle drivers cut semi-trucks off and cause accidents. Yet, many 18-wheeler accidents are caused by negligent semi-drivers who violate traffic violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports the following common traffic law violations as causes of trucking accidents:
- Distracted driving is any activity that takes attention away from driving. This might include adjusting the radio, programming a GPS, eating, and more. These things are not strictly illegal, but federal law prohibits commercial drivers from using a cell phone. Semi drivers may push one button to start or end a call, but they must use a hands-free feature to talk. Truck drivers who text while driving are violating federal and Texas state law.
- Driving under the influence is something that the average person hopes an 18-wheeler driver doesn’t do. Unfortunately, studies show that alcohol and drug use among truck drivers remains common because of long work days and tough conditions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that 13 percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had drugs in their system. More than one out of five had a blood alcohol content higher than 0.08, and the legal limit for 18-wheeler drivers is 0.04. Drugs and alcohol impair a driver’s ability to react to hazards and judge time and distance, often resulting in serious or fatal accidents.
- Speeding may not always cause an accident, but it remains the most common factor associated with fatal semi-truck accidents. Out of all the fatal large truck accidents in the United States in 2016, about a third of drivers were speeding. Semi-trucks, depending on how much their load weighs, are between 20 and 30 times heavier than the average car. When 18-wheeler drivers go too fast, especially in inclement weather, the driver has difficulty stopping or making adjustments for dangers on the road.
- Failure to yield also makes it difficult for 18-wheeler drivers to stop quickly when they notice another motor vehicle. Sometimes they may not see the other vehicle. Failure to yield often coincides with distracted driving, but it’s also a result of truck drivers who are laser focused on their schedule and getting to their destination, instead of paying attention to the road.
- Failure to obey signals is another traffic violation that often is a result of distracted driving. Most drivers, car, truck, or otherwise, don’t intentionally disobey traffic signals and stop signs. Yet, if they are distracted and focused on other things, it’s easy to miss a signal or stop sign. When cars strike an 18-wheeler that has run a traffic signal, they are at risk for an under-ride accident which happens when the car gets stuck under the truck. Under-ride accidents typically result in catastrophic injuries and are often fatal.
- Tailgating often occurs because truck drivers are in a hurry to get to their destination. Driving safely behind another vehicle involves leaving a two-second gap. The mass of an 18-wheeler requires extra space to slow down. The FMSCA recommends that tractor-trailer drivers leave a four to five second gap depending on how fast they are traveling. When driving in rain and snow, drivers need to leave at least eight seconds between them and the car in front of them. When an 18-wheeler driver follows too closely they risk serious accidents that might include totaling the car in front of them.
What are Injuries that Result from 18-Wheeler Accidents
Injuries sustained in an 18-wheeler truck accident aren’t much different than those sustained in other types of motor vehicle accidents, except the weight and force of a truck makes injuries far more severe and more likely to be fatal. Some common injuries that might occur in a truck accident include:
- Fractured and crushed bones
- Deep lacerations that might leave scars
- Head injuries that might include blunt force trauma to the head and/or traumatic brain injuries
- Neck injuries including whiplash
- Back and spinal cord injuries that might lead to temporary or permanent paralysis
- Organ damage
- Internal bleeding
- Loss of limbs
- Burns that might lead to scarring in the event of an explosion or fire
Liability in Texas 18-Wheeler Accidents
Truck accident cases generally have layers of complexities because of drivers, their employers, and their insurance carriers involvement in a lawsuit. South Carolina is a tort liability state, which means the insurance companies and court will determine fault in an accident.
Liability might fall solely on the truck driver, especially if he was violating traffic regulations such as drinking and driving or using a cell phone while driving. Other times, poor truck maintenance or a manufacturing defect in the truck might have led to the accident, making the trucking company or a third party liable.
Finally, in some cases, multiple parties might share liability. For example, if a trucking company forces their driver to drive more hours per day than allowed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or forces a driver to take a truck that needs service, the driver and the trucking company might share responsibility.
Seeking Compensation in Texas 18-Wheeler Accidents
If you have been involved in an 18-wheeler accident and sustained injuries, Texas law entitles you to sue for damages to recover losses related to the accident and your injuries.
Settlements and court awards vary based on the severity of injuries and amount of economic and non-economic loss. Here are some common damages that 18-wheeler accident victims might be able to recover:
- Medical costs including ambulance rides, emergency room treatment, hospitalization, radiology, surgery, medication, and more
- Future medical costs for rehabilitation, long-term disabilities, or severe injuries that require multiple surgeries
- Lost wages for missing work due to an injury
- Lost earning capacity in the event that a permanent disability prohibits a victim from returning to their job
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium with a spouse
Comparative Fault in Texas 18-Wheeler Accidents
When trucking companies and their insurance carriers are names in a personal injury lawsuit, they will attempt to reduce the value of a claim or avoid liability altogether.
While there are several strategies the defense might use such as downplaying injuries, trucking companies distancing themselves from the driver, and suggesting the accident did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries, it’s not uncommon for the defense to attempt to shift blame to the accident victim because of Texas’s modified comparative fault rule.
Comparative fault is the notion of shared liability; the court assigns fault to each party and reduces any award for the plaintiff by their percentage fault. In the event that the plaintiff is 51 percent or more at fault for their own injuries, Texas law bars them from collecting damages.