Few accidents are as devastating as a collision between a tractor-trailer and a pedestrian, but whatever its outcome there may be some dispute about who or what caused it. This often leads people to ask the question: "Who is to blame when an 18-wheeler hits a pedestrian in Texas?"
Answer: Liability for accidents in Texas, including those between pedestrians and 18-wheelers, depends on their specific circumstances and the degree to which each party involved caused the accident.
There's probably no myth about the law more widespread than the idea that pedestrians always have the right-of-way. That is straight-up, 100% not true. There are certain places (like parking lots or crosswalks) where a pedestrian is assumed to have the right-of-way unless shown otherwise, but in almost every other circumstance the opposite is true. For instance, any pedestrian who wishes to sue a motorist for hitting them in the road has the harder argument to make, since they first have to explain why they were there to begin with.
Now, we don't say that to in any way suggest that pedestrians are always to blame for being hit by motor vehicles. On the contrary, we've represented hundreds of pedestrians in accident cases. In each of them, though, there was some special set of circumstances that made the driver of the automobile liable—and never once did we use an argument akin to "pedestrians always have the right-of-way" because that's not the law.
With that out of the way, let's talk about how the law in Texas actually equips a jury to determine who's to blame in a truck accident involving a pedestrian.
The trier of fact, as to each cause of action asserted, shall determine the percentage of responsibility, stated in whole numbers, for the following persons with respect to each person's causing or contributing to cause in any way the harm for which recovery of damages is sought, whether by negligent act or omission, by any defective or unreasonably dangerous products, by other conduct or activity that violates an applicable legal standard, or by any combination of these:
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.003
- each claimant;
- each defendant;
- each settling person;
- each responsible third party who has been designated under Section 33.004.
Let's translate that.
"The trier of fact, as to each cause of action asserted, shall determine the percentage of responsibility" means that the jury will determine how to divide liability for each asserted claim.
"[S]tated in whole numbers" means that the percentage of fault put on the parties to the lawsuit needs to be something like 50% or 80%, not 49.997% or 80 and three-eighths percent.
The rule then states that it applies to "the following persons" who caused or "contributing to cause in any way the harm for which recovery of damages is sought, whether by negligent act or omission, by any defective or unreasonably dangerous products, by other conduct or activity that violates an applicable legal standard, or by any combination of these." This basically means that anybody who is in any way alleged to have caused the harm complained of, under darn near any legal theory, is to be assessed by the jury. The jury will then attribute to each such person some portion of fault, ranging from 0% to 100%.
It then spells out which people to include in this analysis: "...each claimant...each defendant...each settling person...each responsible third party."
Now that we've translated it, let's make a new composite rule.
The New-And-Improved Synthesized Rule
When an injured pedestrian or their family sues a truck driver or trucking company, a jury must analyze the evidence and assign a percentage of fault to the pedestrian, the truck driver, and any other defendant alleged to have contributed to the accident, expressed as a percentage ranging from 0% to 100%.Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.003, simplified
Let's try out our new rule on some example fact patterns.
Example 1: Jerry runs out into a public road while intoxicated by cocaine and is hit by two 18-wheelers, causing serious injuries. The first 18-wheeler driver was going the speed limit and the second was going 20 miles an hour over it. It is shown that the first truck driver had no time to react, but the second driver would have been able to react and avoid Jerry if he hadn't been speeding. Under these circumstances a jury could reasonably conclude that Jerry is 85% at fault, the first truck driver is 0% at fault, and the second truck driver is 15% at fault.
Example 2: Miguel is walking on a sidewalk when an 18-wheeler driver takes their eyes off the road, runs onto the sidewalk, and hits him. A jury finds that the truck driver is 100% to blame and Miguel is 0% to blame.
There's One More Rule to Consider—Comparative Fault
You know now that a jury is asked to attribute a percentage of fault to all the people involved in an accident. Now we consider what happens when a jury puts the majority of fault on the injured person who sues (plaintiff).
PROPORTIONATE RESPONSIBILITY. In an action to which this chapter applies, a claimant may not recover damages if his percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent.
AMOUNT OF RECOVERY. (a) If the claimant is not barred from recovery under Section 33.001, the court shall reduce the amount of damages to be recovered by the claimant with respect to a cause of action by a percentage equal to the claimant's percentage of responsibility.Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.001, § 33.002
What this means is that the plaintiff gets nothing if they are more than 50% at fault, and if they are less than 50% at fault their award gets adjusted based on their own percentage of fault.
Example 1: Hannibal is driving an 18-wheeler north on Carthage Road when he starts to turn right at Rome Boulevard. He signals the turn on approach but doesn't notice pedestrian Cesar, who is crossing through Rome in a marked crosswalk. The truck hits Cesar and causes him severe injuries, so Cesar takes Hannibal and his employer to court.
Cesar's attorney argues that he crossed when and where appropriate and had the right-of-way. Hannibal's attorney says that Cesar should have checked his surroundings on principle before crossing. A jury finds Cesar's serious injuries are worth $500,000 in damages, then determines that Hannibal is 90% at fault and Cesar is 10% at fault for the collision.
Applying the comparative fault standard, Cesar is less than 50% responsible for his damages and therefore wins his case. His 10% share of responsibility also applies to the damages, so 10% is subtracted from the jury award of $500,000, leaving Cesar with $450,000.
Example 2: Albert is driving a semi-truck south on the interstate in Austin. He takes his eyes off the road to adjust his GPS, during which time Elliot starts to run across the roadway ahead. Albert looks back to the road and sees Elliot but can't stop before hitting him, causing Elliot fatal injuries.
Elliot's family sues Albert after the accident. In court their attorney argues Albert wasn't watching the road, which violated his elevated standard of care as a professional driver. Albert's attorney counters by pointing out that Elliot ran into the path of an oncoming truck at a place without a marked crosswalk or traffic control signals, where he clearly did not have the right-of-way.
A jury determines that the damages to Elliot are worth $750,000. They then decide that Albert is 35% at fault for the collision and Elliot is 65% at fault. Since they decided Elliot was more than 50% responsible for his own injuries, his family loses their case.
In both those examples a jury weighed each person's contribution to a wreck and the injuries that followed, determined their liability as a percentage, and then decided the dollar amount that represented the damages. Afterward the comparative fault model determined what portion (if any) of those damages would be awarded to the victim. The examples are a little simplistic, however, as the crash's direct participants aren't always the only ones whose contributions must be considered.
Who Else Might be Liable?
Sometimes an accident involves extenuating circumstances or third parties that could be partly responsible for the damage done. For instance, if the truck driver was "on the clock" and performing services for a company when they hit the pedestrian then the company might be vicariously liable for the victim's injuries and losses. It could also be more directly liable if a supervisor ordered the driver to operate a truck known to be unsafe, or if company staff improperly loaded the truck and a cargo shift sent it off-course.
It's also important to look beyond the driver and their employer. For instance, if another company loaded the truck's trailer then it might be partly liable for damage caused by a cargo shift. A good Texas truck accident attorney would also investigate the truck's parts in case of malfunctions or defects, if the road near the accident site was hazardous or in poor condition, and whether any other motorists contributed in some way to the collision.
How Can a Victim Prove Who Was at Fault?
Determining liability in a truck-pedestrian accident can often be quite complex, and will depend on a thorough investigation of everything that contributed to it. However, that investigation is rarely a simple undertaking. Ensuring all the necessary evidence is found and preserved, then using it to build an effective case, can be a tall order for accident victims and their loved ones as they struggle just to get back on their feet.
That's where a skilled and experienced Texas truck accident lawyer can be of service. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have decades of experience assisting victims and families after truck accidents involving pedestrians. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a collision with a tractor-trailer, Grossman Law Offices may be able to help. Call any time for a free and confidential consultation.