According to NHTSA statistics, Texas tends to see more fatal commercial truck accidents annually than any other state. It's obviously important to investigate each of those incidents carefully and thoroughly, both to help the victims and hopefully to reduce the number of future crashes. Those investigations can be quite complicated, however, and many different parties may get involved before all is said and done. That may lead people to wonder: Who investigates 18-wheeler accidents in Texas?
Answer: Texas truck accidents may be investigated by local and/or state authorities, federal officials, insurance adjusters, and attorneys.
It may seem like that's too many cooks in the kitchen, but people who've never been in a crash with an 18-wheeler—fortunate as they are—may not realize how much there is to learn about one.
Below are listed the most common groups that investigate truck accidents. Each group's efforts come with a "catch" of sorts, which may affect how much their findings could help a victim or family trying to build a case.
As agents of the state, police intervene at the crash site for traffic safety reasons and look mostly for broken laws, like speeding or intoxication. They'll learn all the basics they can from examining the scene and interviewing witnesses, then use those to draw conclusions about what happened—including whatever factors they believe might have contributed. They may issue citations or charges if merited, but after they fill out the relevant paperwork their part in the wreck is more or less complete.
The Catch: Police investigations may be helpful for understanding the basic details of a wreck, but they're rarely thorough enough to get all the facts. Moreover, their efforts are not focused on helping victims, and as such their final reports seldom have all the needed specifics of what happened or who was at fault. At most a police report should be treated as a starting point for further investigation, and it's usually a mistake for a victim to base their whole claim solely on its contents.
Agents of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) primarily investigate plane crashes, but they also look into train, boat, and some truck accidents. They usually focus on incidents of "wide-ranging safety significance" and are known for being exceptionally thorough when called in. Their final report usually identifies and breaks down the factors that led to the accident, and may also include recommendations to avoid future wrecks of the same nature. In the rare event that the NTSB weighs in on a truck accident, their findings can be very helpful in learning the whole story.
The Catch: With the help of other agencies, roughly 400 NTSB agents must cover hundreds of air, rail, marine, and highway wrecks across the country. That stretches them pretty thin, so there's a strong chance none will be dispatched to a truck accident unless it involves a clear and compelling threat to greater public safety (such as a large hazmat spill). Moreover, their comprehensive investigations often take quite some time and their reports might not be published for a year or more. That's time that victims and families can't necessarily afford to wait, especially without knowing exactly what the reports might say.
Some truckers are instructed to call their employer and/or insurer before contacting police, particularly in cases where the truck driver could arguably be at fault. In those cases, the insurance company is likely to send out a representative in defense of its commercial policy. An insurance adjuster may review and document the crash scene and vehicle damage, examine police reports, and interview witnesses as they work to determine whether the insurance company must pay for the damages.
The Catch: This one is pretty much all catch. Commercial insurance adjusters are trained to look for whatever might get their firm out of honoring a policy, and because 18-wheelers are insured to the tune of a million dollars in Texas they have a great deal of incentive to undermine a victim's case. That occasionally gets taken to disturbing extremes like destroying evidence or influencing police reports, but usually it's a matter of closely examining the crash in search of material they can use to dodge liability.
It's virtually certain that a trucking company and its insurer will have one or more lawyers working on their side after a crash, which is why an accident victim should enlist the help of an experienced truck accident lawyer as well. Of all the potential investigating parties, only an attorney can be counted on to specifically help the victim.
Rounding up and analyzing all the available data is usually necessary to find the whole truth, and much of that data is beyond the reach of an average accident victim. A good lawyer and the experts on their team will carefully investigate the crash—both the immediate scene and all the possible additional factors, like the trucker's driving record and the big rig's maintenance history.
The Catch: An attorney won't simply show up at a wreck and arbitrarily start investigating what happened. Getting a lawyer on your side after a commercial accident is important for many reasons, but the first step is reaching out to one.
We're Here to Help
The Texas truck accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have decades of combined experience helping people navigate the difficulties of commercial crashes. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a collision with an 18-wheeler, they will gladly discuss your situation with you. Call the firm any time for a free and confidential consultation.