Commercial trucks are an important part of the American economy. Trucks deliver most of the food, devices, and products we purchase. As the old maxim goes, “if you bought it, a truck brought it.”
However, there are costs to having so many large trucks on the road. Every year, thousands of people are injured or killed in traffic accidents involving commercial trucks. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2019, truck accidents killed over 4,000 people and seriously injured many thousands more.
These accidents occur for many different reasons, and some are simply unavoidable. But unqualified truck drivers cause a startling number.
Although most truck drivers are consummate professionals with years of experience, others skirt rules and regulations (often with the help of a trucking company) to get behind the wheel of a big rig and, in doing so, put other people in harm’s way.
Truck Driver Qualifications
Operating a 40-ton vehicle on public roads at a high speed is inherently risky. This is why the government doesn’t allow just anyone to get behind the wheel of a big rig. Truckers must meet certain qualification requirements before they can begin driving.
First and foremost, they must obtain a commercial driver’s license or “CDL.” To obtain a CDL, a prospective truck driver must graduate from a certified school’s training program.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than that required to drive a non-commercial vehicle. To obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), an applicant must pass both skills and knowledge testing geared to these higher standards.”
However, once a driver completes his training and receives his license, his behavior must continue to conform to a set of established safety standards or his CDL may be suspended.
The FMCSA may disqualify a driver for:
- Operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Using a vehicle to commit a felony.
- Using a vehicle while committing a felony, such as in the manufacturing, trafficking, or distribution of a controlled substance.
- Reckless driving
- A traffic violation stemming from a fatal accident
- Driving a commercial vehicle with a CDL in possession
- Driving a commercial vehicle without the proper class of CDL
But most unqualified truck drivers don’t earn the designation because of a felony or DUI charge, they simply don’t complete the necessary training.
Despite the clear criteria and the severe ramifications, trucking companies continue to employ unqualified truck drivers. Many companies simply don’t take the time to ensure their drivers are up to par and may even hide infractions if it means keeping a driver on the road. Unfortunately, thousands of innocent people suffer injury or death at the hands of a trucker that never should’ve been on the road.
Who Can Be Liable?
When most people think of liability for a truck accident, the truck driver is often the first person to come to mind. However, liability can extend far beyond the party behind the wheel. In fact, many unqualified truck driver lawsuits focus on the liability of the trucking company as much as, or even more than, the individual driver.
The legal doctrine of respondeat superior dictates that truck drivers can be deemed agents, in a legal sense, of the trucking company that employs them. Therefore, trucking companies can be held liable for wrongdoing committed by their truck drivers while they’re on the job. The plaintiff must demonstrate that, at the time of the accident, the driver performed duties within the scope of his employment.
What Are Damages?
In the truck accident context, damages come in three varieties: monetary, non-monetary, and punitive.
Monetary damages address financial injuries that are easily assigned a monetary value. In this category are losses related to medical debt, lost wages, and loss of future earnings. These claims are easy to prove and can generally be done so with bills or receipts.
Non-monetary damages address more abstract losses that cannot easily convert to a dollar amount. This category includes subjective injuries such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium. Proving these claims is often more challenging, and plaintiffs usually need to submit testimony from an expert witness such as a doctor or psychiatrist.
Punitive damages are idiosyncratic in the sense that they don’t address the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. When the court awards punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, they do so not with the attention of compensating the plaintiff but with punishing the defendant. They are used to send a message both to the defendant and society that the court will not tolerate
Courts only award these damages in extreme circumstances involving outrageous behavior worthy of such ignominious labels as wanton, reckless, and grossly negligent. Punitive damages are usually a boon for the plaintiff as they often far exceed what’s necessary to address his injuries.
Texas, like many other states, caps punitive damages. Under Texas law, they may not exceed the greater of $200,000 or twice the economic damages plus an equal amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000.
Coming to grips with a serious truck accident is always challenging, but an unqualified truck driver makes acceptance even more difficult. Perhaps if the trucking company had simply acted responsibly, you wouldn’t be in this position.
Furthermore, recovering is more challenging if those responsible refuse to accept any responsibility for the accident. Trucking companies often believe, because of their deep pockets, that they don’t have to acknowledge victims.
Thankfully, Texas Law creates a cause of action for those injured because of an unqualified truck driver. They can file a lawsuit against those responsible which, if successful, may result in a considerable financial award.
Texas residents should act quickly. Texas imposes a two-year statute of limitations on all truck accident lawsuits. Failure to act promptly could mean permanently forfeiting the right to legal recourse.