Texas Commercial Truck Accident Law

A Guide for Victims

The purpose of this guide is to explain truck accident law in a way that is useful to non-lawyers.

But why? At some point, truck accident victims will have to pick a lawyer, and the harsh reality is that most lawyers are not qualified to litigate truck accident cases. So, what often happens is many accident victims fall into the trap of hiring an unqualified attorney who experiments on their case with unproven methods.

With so much at stake in a truck accident case, you can't afford to let that happen to you. By sharing the info in this guide—info we've acquired over 30 years of litigating high-stakes truck accident cases—we hope you will be better equipped to recognize whether the lawyer you're considering is the right person for the job.

Now, truck accident litigation is a vast subject. So to make things easier on you, the reader, we have broken this guide into a few discreet topics, each of which is covered in its own chapter:

But if you'd rather skip all the reading, just give us a call. We love talking about the law and will gladly walk you through our approach.

Chapter 1 - Things You Should be Concerned About

Concerns After a Truck Accident

Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? One of the first things that Morpheus must do is convince Neo that everything he thinks he knows is wrong. It's a tough pill to swallow (pun intended), but accepting that reality is the first step on Neo's path to heroism.

I'm sorry to say it, but we need to have a similar discussion. The harsh truth you need to accept is: No matter how good your case is, it can be lost if it's not handled properly.

Since even a good case can be lost in the hands of a bad lawyer, there are a few things you should be concerned about. What we aim to do in this chapter is to first put these concerns on your radar and then explain how we will work to keep them from becoming a problem in your case.

In no particular order, here are 7 things you should be concerned about.

1. You Can Lose an Un-Losable Case if You Don't Gather and Preserve Supporting Evidence

Most clients believe that if they can just tell their story, they'll win. A jury will hear about the terrible thing that happened to them and will make it right.

The problem is, that's not how courts work. If you could sit down and have a cup of coffee with the jury and pour your heart out, sure, they would probably take your side. In a courtroom, however, the evidence has to do the talking. So, the real fight is over what evidence the jury is allowed to hear.

Here's a perfect example. In the last case we tried in Collin County, we were second on the docket, meaning that another case got to go first, and then it was our turn. This provided us with a front-row seat to their trial.

Their case involved an accident where the offender ran a red light and T-boned the victim. The police report put the offender 100% at fault. Easy case, right?

Unfortunately, the victim's lawyer neglected to properly prove up the police report, so it was not admitted as evidence. This mistake transformed the proceedings into a game of he-said, she-said, and the victim lost their "un-losable" case.

This is easy enough to avoid. The reason our firm has had such success in truck accident cases is that we don't assume anything is obvious. Instead, we gather evidence, we preserve it in accordance with the rules, we have the evidence proved up so that it is admissible, and then we build our case around that evidence.

2. There Are Already Lawyers Involved in Your Case

Many people hesitate to call an attorney after an 18-wheeler crash because they're not "one of those people who files lawsuits." What they may not realize is that as soon as a trucking company gets word that one of their vehicles was in a crash, their investigators and their attorneys begin to mount a defense.

In fact, it's not uncommon for trucking company defense attorneys to be on the scene of the crash while the investigation takes place. The question isn't "do you want to hire a lawyer for your case?" Rather, it's "do you want to be the only party without a lawyer?"

This too is an easy problem to solve. Do your homework and find the best lawyer for your case, ASAP.

3. While You Wait, Evidence Evaporates

There is a reason that trucking companies send their attorneys to crash sites: time matters. After authorities treat the injured persons and conduct a brief crash investigation, their priority is to reopen roads. This means that physical evidence is removed from the scene, and the eyewitnesses go back to their lives. As such, the evidence you need to win your case starts vanishing shortly after the crash. Any delay in starting your case only compounds this problem.

This is easy to solve by hiring a competent truck accident lawyer who will immediately start gathering evidence. We cover this in more detail later, but the right way for a lawyer to respond when they're hired in a truck accident case is to launch an independent investigation that is quite thorough. Good law firms—the ones that win truck accident cases—hire outside accident reconstructionists and set them loose on the scene and the vehicles. An accident reconstructionist is a professional with an engineering and physics education whose job is to crawl all over an accident scene, laser map it, extract electronic data from the vehicles involved, and then reconstruct the scene in a 3D model to depict what happened. The evidence these professionals gather is usually far better than that which is gathered by the police, and so their testimony and work product are often far more persuasive to a jury.

4. Car Accident Lawyers Are Not The Right Choice

A successful car accident attorney (like the ones who advertise in flashy TV commercials) usually resolve hundreds or thousands of car accident cases a year. These same attorneys may only handle a few commercial truck accident cases in an entire career. There just aren't as many truck accident cases, so most car accident lawyers rarely ever have a chance to develop the skillset. Further, commercial truck accident law and investigation are far more complex, trucking company defense attorneys are a more skilled opponent, and the stakes are much higher.

To be perfectly blunt, a surprisingly large number of car accident attorneys lack the skill, resources, and experience to successfully resolve a commercial truck accident case. Clients who want to win should instead choose a lawyer whose practice focuses specifically on truck accident cases, not one who merely dabbles or who aspires to one day be a respected truck accident lawyer.

5. You Are Under Investigation

There are two parts to every injury and wrongful death case. The first is the "who is to blame?" part and the second is the "how much must they pay?" part. Trucking company lawyers long ago learned that sometimes the best defense is not to deny that their driver was at fault. Instead, they try to argue down the amount to be paid to the victim.

The best way for them to compel a jury to award you less money is to get the jury to dislike something about you. The best way to make that happen is to spy on you, find something they can take out of context, and then act as if it is representative of who you are as a person.

Most people don't consider themselves to be susceptible to spying. "Who cares if someone talks to my former intimate partners, looks at my social media, or records me while I'm driving to work? I've got nothing to hide." But the thing you must understand is that it doesn't matter if they find any real dirt. They just need to find something they can misconstrue. Don't make the mistake of thinking that could never happen to you.

6. Moses Came Down from the Mountain with Stone Tablets, Not Police Reports

One of the biggest mistakes that truck accident victims make is to assume that, since a police report puts the truck driver at fault for a crash, the trucking company and their insurers must compensate the victim for their losses. That's just not true. Police reports have no binding effect on anything. The only entity that can make a binding determination of fault is a jury. People who make the mistake of thinking that a favorable police report will save the day are apparently unaware that a judge may or may not even allow the report to be admitted as evidence.

7. Only a Fool Represents Himself

Even attorneys hire other attorneys to represent them, when they're involved in legal matters. Why would an attorney hire someone else to do a job that they're presumably qualified to perform? First, the law is vast and complex. A lawyer who is a master of contract law may have very little understanding of probate law or personal injury law.

More importantly, it's human nature to view ourselves in the most favorable light possible. This trait poisons a case. What truck accident victims need is an advocate who can view the case through the eyes of a jury. How you view your own case doesn't matter in a court of law.

Chapter 2 - Successful Strategy

Dallas Truck Accident Attorney - Winning Strategy

Many attorneys believe that since they're the lawyer, you should blindly trust them to get the job done. We take a different approach. We believe that it's your case, so it's our responsibility to lay out our strategy to resolve your case, explaining why we believe it's the correct approach.

In this section, we'll walk you through what we believe is the most successful way to litigate a truck accident case, starting with a solid investigation and going all the way through a jury verdict. By the end of this section, you won't have to rely on our track record or awards to decide if you should trust us with your case. Rather, you'll understand what we do and, more importantly, why we do it that way.

Every Successful Commercial Truck Accident Case Starts With an Independent Investigation

There are at least three stories in every crash: There's the victim's version of events, how the offending driver saw things, and then there's what the evidence says happened. Whether your case succeeds or not depends on how much the evidence supports your version of events. That is why conducting an independent investigation as soon as possible is vital for your case.

The mistake that many people make is to assume that the investigation done by the police is good enough. It isn't. Police are trained to look for crimes, first and foremost, and to collect data for state statistics, secondarily.

Does that mean that cops are unconcerned with who is at fault? No. Many cops really care about getting it right, since they understand that their report is one piece of the puzzle when victims try to rebuild their lives. Rather, the point we're making is that cops pay no price for getting it wrong, which leads many cops to conduct sloppy investigations.

Further, the police rarely have the tools to investigate as thoroughly as a private, for-hire accident reconstructionist.

Consider this real-life example. Recently, a family, who was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler near El Paso, TX, hired us to litigate their case. When we began our investigation, one of the first things we looked for was the engine control module (ECM), which some people refer to as the truck's "black box." It can record information such as the vehicle's speed and whether or not brakes were applied prior to a crash.

We contacted the investigating authorities and they explained that they didn't have custody of the ECM, because the trucking company offered to pull the data and then turn it over to the investigators so they could include it in the final report. In other words, the cops allowed the trucking company, whose driver was accused of rear-ending and injuring a family, to furnish the evidence in the case. That's like letting a murder suspect dust their own apartment for fingerprints.

We don't mean to belittle the investigating officers. They had an ostensible rationale for letting the trucking company handle that part of the investigation: the officers didn't have the equipment to pull the ECM data themselves. Nevertheless, it was a stark reminder that the police often can't obtain the same level of detailed evidence that private accident reconstructionists can acquire.

Making your case without evidence is next to impossible, which makes gathering evidence crucial for your case's success. You need someone on your side who knows what to look for, where to look for it, and who the right people are to gather and interpret that evidence.

If not the police, then who should handle your investigation? The best approach is to hire an attorney, and your attorney will select an accident reconstructionist. Together, they will delve into the specifics of the accident and collect the necessary evidence.

It should be mentioned that, just like lawyers, not all accident reconstructionists are created equal. In our firm's 30-year history, we have worked with many accident reconstructionists, and have developed a trusted network of those whom we regard as both good at investigating and good at testifying.

What Evidence Do I Need to Prove the Truck Driver is at Fault?

What's the point of evidence in a court of law? Clearly, it is to give the jury what it needs to assess the accident. Every jury wants to know:

  • How did this crash occur?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How much are the victim's losses from the crash?

Therefore, the evidence you need is whatever is necessary to answer those questions.

To understand how a crash occurred, video footage is often one of the better ways to explain your position to the jury. Often this video comes from the truck's dash camera or surveillance cameras from nearby businesses. But what if there is no video of the accident? Then you make some. An accident reconstructionist will conduct a laser mapping of the scene and render it in a 3D modeling program. He will then feed the collected data into this program, enabling it to render an animation that shows the jury what happened in the accident, as supported by the collected data.

It's important not to stop the investigation here. For example, an accident reconstructionist can scientifically show that a crash occurred because a commercial truck didn't apply the brakes in time, but a jury will still want to know, "Why didn't the driver brake?"

To understand why a crash occurred, one must gather evidence about the driver's state of being at the time of the crash. One place to start is to obtain the driver's cell phone records. It's surprising to learn just how many wrecks occur because a commercial driver is doing something that they shouldn't be doing behind the wheel.

For instance, several years ago, we represented a family who lost a loved one when a truck driver slammed into several cars that were stopped in traffic. The accident reconstructionist determined that despite having a clear view of the stopped traffic, the truck driver didn't apply his brakes until a split second before the collision. Our firm obtained the truck driver's cell phone records for the time leading up to the crash. This wasn't a standard practice then, but it is now. In this case, those records clearly showed that the trucker was watching pornography on his phone in the minutes leading up to the crash, while traveling down the road at 70 miles per hour.

As you can imagine, once we had evidence showing their driver killed someone because he was watching adult movies while driving, the trucking company never wanted the case to get before a jury. They quickly made a generous settlement offer to the client.

It's not just cell phone data that speaks to why a crash occurred. Sometimes the smoking gun is the driver's Hours of Service logs, showing they were on the road longer than allowed by law. Other times, it could be a company policy that permits dangerous behavior behind the wheel or fails to punish known offenders when they are caught breaking the rules. Sometimes, the answer is in the company's hiring and training practices. A small percentage of truck drivers cause more than their fair share of crashes, but companies with lax hiring policies give these bad drivers a third, fourth, or even fifth chance, with the hope that this time, the driver won't be dangerous.

Further, one bad practice we have seen time and time again, is that trucking companies reward drivers who break the rules by giving them preferred routes and better pay. Some truck drivers, are willing to forge their Hours of Service logs thus creating a paper trail that reflects that the driver was on the clock for 14 hours in a 24-hour period. In reality, however, the driver will actually work for, say, 20 hours straight, long past the point of exhaustion. This allows them to deliver their cargo quickly, which makes the customer happy, which makes the trucking company want to give the driver certain rewards. But the consequence of this behavior is that the company is in effect paying the driver to break the rules and put everyone on the road at risk.

The main takeaway is that a professional investigation goes far beyond what's contained in a police report, beyond the crash scene, and delves into any area where decisions were made that potentially led to a crash. Using that as a starting point, it's easy to understand why a police investigation just doesn't hit on all of the areas you need it to. Evidence is the bedrock of your case, and gathering that evidence requires having someone on your side who knows where to look.

Evidence Proving the Other Driver's Fault Is Only Half the Battle

While a proper investigation will gather the evidence to prove that the truck driver is at fault, this is only half the