Truck accidents in the state of Texas and city of San Antonio can be devastating to the victims and can cause massive injuries and death in a split second. This is especially true in the case of an accident between a car and a large truck. The size difference between a regular passenger car or SUV and a tractor-trailer or 18-wheeler makes surviving such an accident completely intact a somewhat unusual event.
Tractor-trailer combination vehicles are a fact of life for anyone traveling along the nation’s roadways and those injured by 18-wheeler semi-trucks need an experienced San Antonio truck accident lawyer on their side to understand their legal rights.
Content Quick Links:
- What Are The Most Common Causes of Trucking Accidents?
- What Documents are Necessary Following a Truck Accident?
What Makes Commercial Trucks So Dangerous?
Tractor-trailers serve the function of moving goods across the country. They are an important part of America’s economy. However, these trucks are also one of the largest hazards on roadway across the nation. Our San Antonio truck accident lawyers have handled cases all over the nation and has seen the seriousness and the life-altering injuries they can cause. There are a number of reasons why large trucks, often referred to as 18-wheelers or tractor-trailers, pose such a danger to Texas and US roadways.
- The size of these huge vehicles limits their visibility and extends their necessary braking distance.
- The size difference between large trucks and passenger vehicles often results in accidents that are catastrophic in nature, making death or serious injuries much more likely.
- In many cases, the 18-wheelers on the road are improperly maintained by the companies that own them.
- Drivers are often not properly trained or supervised.
- Truck drivers are often encouraged to drive faster and longer so as to move their load from one place to another in a shorter amount of time.
Are Truck Safety Regulations Helping?
All of those factors combined make large trucks a major danger on the road. A number of state and federal government agencies, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), have been formed to regulate the trucking industry and make it safer for normal drivers on the road. These rules and regulations place limits on what trucking companies and driver can and cannot do. For example, how long and far truck drivers are allowed to drive. These rules and regulations go a long way to make the roads safer for drivers and they can also be helpful in court to demonstrate to the jury how a commercial truck company or driver failed to adhere by them.
Despite the regulations that are in place to improve drivers’ safety and reduce truck accidents, a surprisingly large number of truck accidents continue to take place every year. The FMCSA keeps detailed statistics of commercial truck and bus accidents that have occurred nationally and in each state. According to FMCSA statistics for 2013, these are the numbers for accidents involving 18-wheelers:
- 3,341 fatal truck accidents in 2011
- 60,000 injury accidents in 2011
- 3,757 killed traffic crash victims in 2011
- 88,000 injured traffic crash victims in 2011
Common Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents in San Antonio
Texas truck drivers and trucking companies are covered by a number of state and federal regulations that obligate them to operate their vehicles with a far higher standard of care than is necessary for drivers of passenger vehicles. Despite these extra rules and oversight, accidents happen, and it is often due to the negligence of the truck driver or the trucking company, or both.
The most common causes of trucking accidents include:
- Driver fatigue, especially when a driver operates his vehicle for more hours than is legally proscribed
- Distracted driving, such as when a truck driver is playing with an electronic device, or even eating, drinking or smoking
- Driving under the influence
- Unlicensed or poorly trained drivers
- The trucks are either oversized or overloaded
- The truck is not been properly maintained
- Mechanical defects, such as blowouts or brake failure
Truck Driver Fatigue
Driving while tired or fatigued is dangerous. Everyone knows that. However, when it comes to 18-wheeler drivers, that risk is sometimes ignored. According to a recent study by the FMCSA, 2.6 truck drivers out of every 100 on the road are suffering from fatigue. Fatigued, sleep-deprived commercial vehicle operators cause, on average, 750 deaths and 20,000 injuries per year. In a 1995 study, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that fatigue was a factor in 75% of crashes involving large commercial trucks.
Recent rules, initiated by the FMCSA, allow for truck drivers to drive 60-70 hours per week, with a maximum of 11 consecutive hours of drive time. Under these same regulations, drivers have a limit of 14 consecutive “on duty” hours. “On duty” hours include all driving and non-driving activities, such as log entry, vehicle maintenance, loading and unloading. These regulations are known as the 11/14 rule.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has concluded that semi-truck drivers operating a vehicle for more than 8 consecutive hours are twice as likely to have a crash due to driver fatigue. In the study, the IIHS found that truck driver fatigue is caused by long hours, sleep deprivation, and disruption of normal sleep cycles. This is not surprising information for anyone. In light of this information, employers and regulators should take action to ensure that truckers are well rested to protect others on the roadways. If they don’t and an accident occurs, victims may be entitled to compensation.
Truck Accidents Caused by Negligence
Drivers of these vehicles should be trained to know the equipment they are driving and the road conditions that affect their vehicles. Each year, countless accidents are caused by commercial drivers who are not qualified to operate large commercial trucks or buses or have not been properly trained by their employer. Mishaps from these untrained and unqualified drivers include:
- Lack of knowledge of the truck, trailer or bus
- Improperly secured loads
- Lack of knowledge on the effect of road conditions on their vehicle
- Driving too many hours in a given day
- Improper or illegal entries in their driver logs
- Avoiding state inspections for commercial vehicles
With the recent explosion of oil and gas activity in Texas and the United States, many companies are having difficulty finding and hiring trained truck drivers. Many of the drivers they hire are not being properly trained due to the current demand for drivers and high turnover rates. According to the American Trucking Association’s monthly Trucking Report in 2012, the turnover rate for truck drivers over a 12-month period was 100% in some parts of the country. This means the employer must replace its entire fleet of drivers every year.
Truck Accidents Caused by Distraction
Over the past several years, distracted driving has slowly become a major cause of trucking accidents. With the increase in the use of smartphones and tablets, Texas and San Antonio have seen an increase in accidents due to distracted drivers–in passenger vehicles and commercial motor vehicles. Truck drivers are apparently just as distracted as other motorists. A 2010 report issued by the FMCSA reveals that 20% of all trucking accidents are caused by distracted truck drivers. Types of distractions included:
- Cellphone use
- Reaching for a device
- Eating or drinking
- Smoking or tobacco use
- Adjusting controls
Many of these distractions are compounded by the fact that commercial trucks have significant blind spots that can contribute to accidents and a truck accident attorney will be able to assist the investigation as you navigate the aftermath of your serious injury and accident.
The Dangers of Oversized Truck Loads
Everyone has driven down the roadway and passed an 18-wheeler hauling a heavy or “wide-load.” Sometimes these trucks are escorted by smaller escort vehicles and sometimes they are not. Typically, these 18-wheelers have a lot of flags, flashers, and other warning signs. Due to the danger of wide or heavy loads, regulations require these extra warnings. However, in spite of these warnings, these trucks sometimes cause accidents. Overloading and improperly secured loads are two of the leading causes of semi-truck accidents.
When accidents occur involving heavy, wide, or improperly secured loads, it is important to fully investigate the cause of the accident, the dynamics of the accident, and whether the truck driver and trucking company were in compliance with state and federal laws. An overloaded or improperly-secured truck may be in violation of both state and federal laws if it fails to follow all the rules put in place to protect other motorists from these imposing vehicles. Unfortunately, the fines imposed on such violators are often simple nuisances that fail to deter future violations. Examples of violations for overweight and improperly-secured loads include:
- Loads exceeding state or federal weight restrictions
- Loads exceeding width/height restrictions
- Axle overloading
- Improper tie-downs
- Failing to attach warning devices (flags) to over-sized loads
Tractor trailers (18-wheelers) are limited, in most instances, to a total weight of 80,000 pounds for the truck and its freight. Dump trucks should not exceed 64,00-70,000 pounds, depending on the size of the vehicle’s wheels. Unfortunately, as many as 30% of the commercial trucks on our roads are overloaded or overweight. This translates to an increase in trucking accidents because overloaded trucks require much more time to come to a complete stop and are more likely to roll over.
Overloading and improperly-secured loads can affect the driver’s ability to properly control a truck by increasing the stopping distance, increasing in the risk of rollover, and decreasing the driver’s ability to perform emergency maneuvers.
Improperly Maintained 18-Wheelers
We drive every day surrounded by commercial vehicles on the road. We rely on the owners and operators of these large vehicles to keep their trucks and trailers safe through proper maintenance. Many of these trucks are transporting dangerous cargo or hazardous materials. Unfortunately, many truck drivers, or the company that owns and maintains the trucks, do not properly maintain their vehicle. Studies within the trucking industry have recently concluded that equipment and maintenance-related issues were the cause of many tractor-trailer accidents.
- Brake system
- Trailer hitch/safety chains
- Power train
- Exhaust system
- Steering system
An improperly maintained 18-wheeler puts everyone at risk of serious catastrophic accidents. Even the truck drivers themselves may be injured through no fault of their own but of the company or entity charged with making sure the truck is in safe operating order.
Considering the number of entities involved, the number and types of equipment issues possible and the variety of loads hauled – there can be many causes attributed to commercial truck accidents. Our San Antonio truck accident attorneys are highly experienced when it comes to handling trucking accidents and dealing with the intricacies of cases involving large, heavily-regulated trucking companies. A personal injury lawyer at our firm will work quickly to preserve and protect the integrity of all evidence available because those who are representing the trucking company and their insurance company will do exactly that.
For example, the vehicles themselves may be critical pieces of evidence, and they must be carefully examined as soon as possible. Our lawyer will investigate the scene of the truck accident as well as all other vehicles involved. An attorney on our team will take witness statements and monitor your accident claim as soon as possible following the accident to record important memories of the incident.
What Documents are Necessary Following a Trucking Accident?
After the initial investigation and a lawsuit is filed, all the documents regarding the driver, the truck and facts surrounding the accident should be gathered with the help of an experienced truck accident lawyer. Certain documents often make or break a case against a trucking company in order to pursue financial compensation and justice, such as:
The driver must complete the logbook daily. In the logbook, the driver will record information such as the number of miles traveled, the number of hours of service, their on- or off-duty status, and any other relevant information about their trip during the previous 24 hours. This is one of the most important records for any truck accident case because there are many other documents that can be checked and compared to the logbook to ensure the veracity of each document. Logbooks and other documents can provide evidence of exceeding posted speed limits, exceeding the number of hours of service, or other negligent activity or violations of state or federal laws.
One reason a truck accident lawyer must work quickly on a case is that some documents, such as logbooks, only have to be maintained by the trucking company for six months. If the victim of a trucking accident waits longer than six months to file suit, it may be too late to obtain the logbooks that are relevant to their case.
In addition to logbooks, some 18-wheelers may be equipped with an onboard computer designed to monitor the vehicle’s and driver’s performance. The information is then stored, to later be uploaded into a larger system, which is then used to generate reports on the driver, vehicle, and trip. Some trucks are also equipped with GPS, which are used to monitor very specific details about the trip at a specific time and location during the trip.
Bills of Lading
Hill Law Firm will also look for a bill of lading. A bill of lading is a document that is required to be issued as a receipt of goods, evidence of title to the property being transported, and as the contract of carriage setting forth the names of the contracting parties and the terms of the carriage. The Bill of Lading allows a party to ascertain the identity of the patients that contracted for the shipment.
The freight bill contains much of the same information as the bill of lading. The freight bill also contains information on all the charges, the trailer number, the origin and destination terminals and special instructions to the driver for handling or delivering the load. Your trucking accident attorney will use the information in the freight bill to establish several important facts that will be important for your personal injury case, including whether the driver was on a detour or taking a side trip, or if the driver was given special instructions, which could help prove negligence.
The trip report contains detailed facts about the trip, including truck equipment numbers, odometer readings, which states the truck went through, fuel and other expenses, any number of other details that can be used to strengthen your case. In some cases, this information can be obtained from, and compared to, the onboard computer or compiled from the drivers log and other documents.
Schedule from Motor Carrier
Often, trucking companies provide a driver with the proposed schedule for the haul, thus informing the driver where they are going and when they have to be there. This can demonstrate that the company was encouraging the driver to drive to or exceed the speed limit, both of which violate federal regulations.
By law, certain driving records must be kept by the trucking company to a certain extent. This includes any previous internal accident or investigation reports.
Taking the time to draft an extensive and specific set of discovery on the seven categories set forth above will go a long way in establishing liability against the truck driver and the company. Sometimes, this is the only avenue of recovery in a case. However, it is always prudent to conduct discovery on the issues of whether other potential defendants exist and if they are already in the lawsuit, whether they can be held liable for the actions of the primary wrongdoer.
One way to extend liability to an entity that did not technically perform the wrongful conduct. drive the truck, hire the driver, or load the cargo, is to break down the technical barriers between the defendant and the wrongdoer to show that the wrongdoer was actually a part of the tortfeasor entity. There are two ways to go about this process.
First, one can show the defendant(s) and the wrongdoer(s) are actually one in the same, under the doctrines of piercing the corporate veil known as single business enterprise and alter ego. Second, one can show the defendant(s) and the wrongdoer(s) were in something like a partnership in performing the conduct that caused the damages, under the doctrines of joint enterprise and joint venture.
Contact a San Antonio Truck Accident Lawyer for Compensation
The accident attorneys Hill Law Firm have the experience and knowledge needed to take on the trucking companies and get you all the compensation you’re entitled to. Among the compensation you may be entitled to and that we would work hard to help you recover, may include:
- Property Damage: Including damage to your vehicle, damage to items that were stored in the vehicle, and damage to items that the driver and passengers inside the vehicle may have been carrying.
- Medical Bills: Including everyone inside the vehicle, including the driver and the passengers. Whether they received minor injuries or were severely injured, anyone who suffers an injury and truck accident may receive compensation for all medical expenses on their behalf, for the present and, quite possibly for the future.
- Other Expenses: The victim of a truck accident may be compensated for any injuries or other factors that impact their ability to bring in income. That includes compensation for job loss or any other impact on income that may be appropriate.
- Pain and Suffering: Quite often, the victim of the truck accident may be entitled to compensation for other circumstances that go well beyond normal medical care. A truck accident is a traumatizing event that can have a serious negative impact on the victim’s life, and they may be entitled to compensation for that.
Injured in a truck accident? Our attorneys can help
The aftermath of any car accident or truck accident is almost always emotionally and financially devastating to the victim and their family, especially when injuries are involved. Don’t wait to contact our San Antonio injury lawyers. In order to protect your rights under the law, we should begin our investigation as soon as possible. The truck accident victim is immediately at a disadvantage because the trucking companies and their insurance companies will have already sent investigators to the scene of the accident searching for any information that might put themselves and their drivers in a good light.
If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed in a trucking accident in San Antonio or anywhere in Texas, contact the experienced injury attorneys at Hill Law Firm for questions or a free consultation – a Hill Law San Antonio truck accident attorney can help you protect your rights!
“I am grateful to God for finding Justin in my most difficult and hardest time of need. He guided me every step of the way, and made me feel comfortable and safe. I saw his empathy and compassion for me and my entire family. Everyone in his firm is kind, hardworking and thoughtful. His passion, professionalism and dedication to help others is amazing and remarkable. I am forever grateful to him and his firm. I highly recommend Justin and his firm to anyone looking for representation.” – Claudia