How 18-Wheeler Rear-End Accident Cases Work
While it may seem like getting rear-ended by a tractor-trailer would make for an “open and shut” case, that’s not actually accurate. You see, the belief that truck drivers are “automatically liable” for rear-end collisions is an absolute myth. So too is the belief that “the rear driver is always at fault be cause Texas is an ‘at-fault’ state.” There is no legal basis for either of these well known beliefs, yet many people take them as gospel truth. The problem with this line of thinking is that it has led many people who should have a very good case against a negligent truck driver down the wrong path, ruining their otherwise good case.
Folks, it’s simple. It doesn’t matter how the truck accident happened, Texas law always puts the burden on the injured party (or the family of the person who was killed in the accident) to prove that the offending driver is at fault for the accident because they acted negligently. “He hit me from behind so he must be at fault” is not an argument that any judge in Texas would allow in his courtroom. Despite the fact that the law is more complex than old wives tales and misguided adages would have you believe, if you have the right attorney on your side, proving the fault of a negligent truck driver is easy. Our attorneys have won hundreds of these cases, and in this article, we’ll explain what you need to know to understand how rear-end 18-wheeler accident cases actually work.
Questions Answered on this page:
- Aren’t trucking companies automatically responsible for a rear-end crash?
- How might a trucking company defend themselves (or their driver) when they hit you from behind?
- How much is my 18-wheeler rear-end accident case potentially worth?
Trucking companies are not automatically liable for rear-end accidents.
Sometimes when clients come to talk to us about these accidents, they say “Isn’t the 18-wheeler legally responsible for rear-end collisions by default?” To be clear, there is no law that mandates that a trucker or his insurance carrier pay you after a rear-end collision. In fact, that’s never the case with any kind of accident, which you can read more about here. Instead, in any injury case, you have to prove that the accident happened through negligence. Evidence of an injury, and even evidence of misconduct itself, is not how you win. Instead, you have to translate the events of the accident into the language of the court and show that the fact in your case meet the legal definition of negligence.
The reason it works this way is because there are indeed accident scenarios wherein a truck can hit someone from behind and it’s legitimately not the trucker’s fault. Consider this:
- A trucker is driving safely, within the speed limit, and keeping an eye out on the road ahead. A car cuts in front of the truck and slams on its brakes, leaving the trucker no time to react. No jury in their right mind would say that the truck driver is at fault just because his vehicle rear-ended the other. That is why there is no hard and fast rule that says the person who struck you from behind is automatically at fault.
Your attorney must prove that the accident occurred because the other driver did something wrong. This takes more than just the police report or your own person recollection of what happened in the accident, but hard facts that can stand up in court. Here are a couple example of an attorney doing it correctly:
- A trucker rear-ended you and totaled your car. Your attorney investigates the case. He subpoenas the driver’s phone records and in-cab video, which shows that the driver was texting while driving. Your attorney researches the thousands of regulations truckers must follow and discovers that 2 years ago, the federal government implemented a rule that truckers cannot use their phones at all while driving. Further, your attorney consults with a safety expert who offers to testify at trial that the texting was negligent behavior. This multi-angle attack against the truck driver will likely convince the court that he should pay you. Simply arguing that his fault is “obvious” because he hit you from behind without explaining why he did so will not win your case.
- A driver in a delivery truck crashes into the back of your car at a red light, but the trucking company’s insurance carrier is refusing to pay out a fair amount (this happens all the time). Your attorney then looks at the ECM data (black box) on the truck and finds that the trucker never actually applied the brakes until 2 seconds before hitting your car, implying that he wasn’t paying attention to the road. Then, several witnesses to the accident are found and they all provide testimony that the trucker was actually reaching for something in the floorboard, not looking at the road. Sound a bit far-fetched? It shouldn’t. We had a case where that exact scenario happened. We won that case not by telling the court that the trucker is automatically liable but by proving that his negligence caused the crash.
As you can see, it takes more than simply filling out a form or just alleging that you were rear-ended to win. That’s why it takes lawyers many years to get the experience needed to litigate these cases well. Fortunately, we’re not lacking in that department; we’ve been handling these kinds of cases for years.
Make no mistake, it’s not impossible to prove that a truck driver was negligent in a rear-end accident, it’s just that it’s not easy, either. We’ve successfully handled many dozens of these cases and have no shortage of favorable verdicts and settlements for our clients. Though this next section is all about how trucking companies try to deflect blame, don’t get discouraged because if your attorney knows what they’re doing, it’s not hard to poke holes in these defenses.
How do trucking companies defend themselves in rear-end accidents?
This is the section you really want to pay attention to, because trucking companies are exceedingly good at coming up with excuses for their drivers. We won’t go into all the reasons for this, but the main one is that it’s often a business-related move. After all, if a trucking company is only as good as their drivers on the road – and it turns out they’re in the habit of employing dangerous & under-qualified drivers – then business is bad. Trucking companies are profit-driven, like many business, and they usually want to stay in business using whatever means necessary.
Every case is different, but we’ve seen time and again how trucking companies point the finger of blame at others—often enough, the victim themselves. To illustrate this, here’s something that really happened at our office. In one particular case we were handling, a defense lawyer was at our Dallas firm for a deposition and happened to make small talk with one of our attorneys, Keith Purdue. As they were talking, the defense attorney mentioned a different trucking case that he was working on where his client (a trucker) crashed into the back of a car stopped at a red light, all the while under the influence of drugs. The defense lawyer wanted to get Keith’s thoughts on what strategy the trucking company could use to downplay their liability, which (understandably) upset Keith. Here was a fellow lawyer asking Keith for advice on how to squirm out of doing the right thing and telling his client to take responsibility for his negligence. Naturally, Keith told the lawyer to go fly a kite, but it served as an unforgettable example of how trucking companies never stop looking for ways to avoid taking the blame.
Often times, their strategy is deflection, which is shown below:
- Blaming third parties: As in the first example above, it does happen that truckers rear-end people and it’s not their fault. However, we’ve seen trucking company after trucking company magically find other people who are “REALLY” the ones who caused your accident. This can be other drivers or even acts of God (like weather). The most popular defense we see is the “mystery driver,” though. That’s when a truck driver will claim that he was cut off by a car which, conveniently, nobody else remembers seeing.
- Deflecting blame onto you: Trucking company attorneys are nothing if not creative about trying to make you look responsible, or at least make themselves appear less in the wrong. On a related note, sometimes trucking companies will do research on accident victims in an effort to discredit you as a person.
- Using the situation: Sometimes, the situation in and of itself can be used as a defense — just like in the example from above where the trucker comes upon an accident with no time to stop. However, trucking companies get pretty liberal with their application of this defense, and they often try to argue that their trucker had no time to brake when, in fact, he did.
- Claiming a sudden lane change: One of the common accusation we see is the trucking company claiming that the victim’s car suddenly changed lanes into their trucker’s path.
- Blaming a mechanical malfunction: Using the manufacturer of the truck is a popular scapegoat for poor driving. In a lot of the cases we handle where the truck driver failed to brake in time, they often claim that “the brakes went out.”
This is how that plays out in court: after both sides present their case, the jury will be asked to determine the percentage of fault attributable to both parties. If the jury finds that you were more than fifty percent responsible for causing the collision, then the trucking company wins and pays you nothing. However, in the event that the defense only convinces the jury that you and/or a third party were less than fifty percent liable for causing the collision, the court will reduce the recovery available by that percentage. This is called “comparative fault.”
For example, assume that a person was injured after they were rear-ended by an 18-wheeler, but the jury found the victim twenty-five percent responsible for causing the crash because one of their brake lights were out. If the jury awarded the injury victim $1 million, the court will reduce the available recovery to reflect the percentage of fault; in this case, it will be reduced to $750,000. You can see why trucking companies will fight you even when it’s obvious that they are to blame for the accident. If they can convince a jury that you or some other party are also to blame, they can avoid having to pay for all of your losses.
So how much is your case worth?
Everyone is entitled to ask us what they think their case is worth. The bottom line is that we can’t give you a guess until we know the facts of your case. A lot will depend on how serious the injuries are, if someone lost their life, and how many people contributed to the accident. We’d love to be able to a “Value Calculator” for people to just punch in some numbers and see what money they could receive, but that just isn’t possible. There are too many variables & factors.
But if a truck has hit you, then the driver was required by law to have had an insurance policy worth $1 million. In other words, there’s likely money to go after, and Texas law says that you can sue them for a wide variety of losses, such as compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical bills, loss of income for missing work, etc. Suffice it to say, an injury claim involving a truck can result in serious compensation. Check out our results page to see some examples of real cases that resulted in compensation, and find one where the injured were similar to your case, and that’ll give you a good idea of the value of your case.
Don’t let the trucking company ruin your case.
For good measure, here’s another example of how trucking companies are continually trying to defect blame onto other people/parties. A number of years ago, we had a client who was killed in a trucking accident, Daniel A. An 18-wheeler driver who was high on cocaine and had been driving for nearly 30 hours straight crashed into the back of some stopped cars on a major highway in Texas, killing Daniel A. On the surface, it seemed pretty obvious that this truck driver was at fault, but his trucking company still argued his innocence.
Their argument? In the oncoming lanes of traffic, there was an accident and an ambulance was on the scene, lights flashing. Since it was dark at the time, the truck driver claimed that the flashing lights on the ambulance distracted him from the road and that’s why he didn’t brake in time. Not the drugs in his system, the fact that he failed to keep his eyes on the road, or the fact that he was well past the point of exhaustion. The ambulance company was dragged into the lawsuit by the trucking company and the jury had to decide whether they thought the ambulance’s lights made a big enough difference to involve them in the legal proceedings. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the trucking company was held liable and forced to pay our client’s family to make things right. But the point is that even in a case where they had no defense for their misconduct, they were still able to cook something up. Had it not been for our firm’s attorneys, Daniel A.’s family would have been railroaded by the trucking company and their lawyers.
If you or a loved one has suffered moderate to severe personal injuries or you are a wrongful death victim due to being rear-ended by an 18-wheeler, our experienced car accident lawyers and truck accident lawyers invite you to give us a call. We’re available toll free at (855) 326-0000 anytime, day or night, to answer your call and give you a free and confidential consultation based on the facts of your case.
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