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Auto accidents between standard passenger vehicles can be very serious—even catastrophic—for those involved. Even auto accidents that result in relatively minor harm can still present a long list of frustrations when trying to secure compensation. However, accidents involving commercial vehicles are often much more complex and even more difficult to navigate. That’s why it’s important to speak with Houston commercial vehicle accident lawyers after a crash.
Zinda Law Group is here to help. Our Houston company vehicle accident lawyers can evaluate the facts of your case, navigate the law, and ultimately help you strategize a path toward maximum compensation for your injuries and property damage. If you or a loved one has been hurt by a company vehicle, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free consultation with an experienced injury lawyer in Houston.
How are commercial vehicle Accidents different?
The first thing accident victims should bear in mind when considering a strategy for handling a commercial vehicle accident is simply that company vehicle accidents are not run-of-the mill car accidents. Of course, auto accidents can be complex and catastrophic in their own right, but commercial vehicle accidents often present unique challenges. If you were injured in a company vehicle accident, call one of our Houston car accidents lawyers today.
What Is a Company Vehicle?
First, it is helpful to define “company vehicle.” This is a diverse category, and defining its unifying characteristic is not as clean-cut as one might think. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) employs the following technical definition of “commercial motor vehicle”:
A motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle—
- weighs 10,001 pounds or more;
- is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers for compensation;
- is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
- is used in transporting material found to be hazardous and transported in a quantity requiring warning signs.
This regulatory definition gives some insight and, by and large, is adhered to fairly closely by state-level regulators. However, for the purposes of a commercial vehicle personal injury case, this technical definition is somewhat limiting.
For example, 18-wheelers, passenger buses, utility trucks, oil-field service trucks, delivery trucks, and work vans might all come to mind as falling within the definition. However, you might just as likely bring a personal injury suit for harm caused by the negligent driver of a sedan on a highway as you would for the same harm caused by an 18-wheeler or delivery truck.
So, if not the “commercial motor vehicle” itself, what makes a commercial vehicle accident different from other accidents? The difference is how the vehicle is being used.
Are one of the involved vehicles being used in a commercial context? Is it being operated by a business for business purposes? If so, you likely have a commercial vehicle case.
Even an everyday passenger vehicle transporting only two or three people—for example, a rideshare service—may ultimately entail some of the challenges that define a “commercial vehicle” case. More on these challenges below.
The Size Factor
However, before addressing the strategic challenges that accompany commercial vehicle cases, it is worth noting that the FMCSA’s definition above does highlight one key difference characteristic of many (though not all) commercial vehicle accidents—namely, the size of the vehicles involved. The size of a vehicle makes a difference on three fronts; the first is the most obvious—the larger the vehicle, the larger the impact. In terms of safety, the passengers in a four-door sedan are at a huge disadvantage when hit by, say, and 18-wheeler.
Second, the larger the vehicle, the more inertia it has, which translates to longer stop times. Third, larger vehicles often have large blind spots.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported a total of 4,119 deaths from large-truck crashes in 2019. Sixteen percent of these deaths were truck occupants, 67 percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.
Ultimately, all drivers are responsible for taking safety measures on the road and staying aware of their surroundings. However, because of the high risk of operating large vehicles, their operators are often held to a higher standard or care. Our Houston car accident lawyers can evaluate what standard of care applies in your case.
Read more: FMSCA, 2020 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 2019 Fatality Facts—Large Trucks.
Now turning to the strategic differences entailed in handling a commercial vehicle accident; in general, these cases are much more complicated and contested than “standard” auto accidents. First, there are generally more potential at-fault parties; for example, in a case involving shipping of goods, liability might flow from the shipper, the trucking company, the loader, brokers, and even truck manufacturers. In turn, this means that there are more potential sources for recovery.
Second, damages will tend to be higher in cases involving a commercial vehicle; in part, this is because the potential for catastrophic harm is much higher. It may also have something to do with the commercial nature of an at-fault party’s negligence; that is, commercial actors are often held to a higher standard of care, particularly when engaging in higher risk activities like operating large trucks or transporting hazardous materials. Failure to follow the higher standard may result in higher damages than normal; often, part of the heightened standard means having adequate insurance to cover potential losses and injuries.
Thirdly, because of the high monetary stakes that often accompany these cases, potential at-fault parties may litigate more vigorously; for example, large companies may have in-house legal teams dedicated to handling lawsuits of this nature, and if there are multiple potential at-fault parties, they will fight to pass blame. Because of the high monetary stakes, any insurance companies involved will also push hard to avoid liability. Proving fault in these cases often translates to hiring more experts, which in turn means expense.
Evaluating these strategic considerations in the context of your case requires the attention of an experienced company vehicle accident lawyer. Call Zinda Law Group to speak with an injury attorney near you. Our Houston company vehicle accident lawyers are equipped to evaluate and handle your case.
Legal highlights in commercial vehicle ACCIDENT cases
Having covered some of the factual and strategic differences involved in commercial vehicle cases, this section will address some important legal concepts that would likely come into play.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is by far the most common cause of action brought in personal injury cases. Our Houston personal injury attorneys are experts in bringing this kind of claim. It is conceptually straightforward: Negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
Negligence may take the form of an act or, where there is an affirmative duty to act, a failure to do so. To win on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove four elements:
1. Duty, the obligation to protect others from unreasonable risk of injury;
2. Breach, the failure to meet that obligation;
3. Causation, a close causal connection between the action and the injury; and
4. Damages, the loss suffered.
All four elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence—if any element is missing, the claim fails.
The facts that lead to a negligence finding can be extremely diverse, since the chains of causation that may lead to accidents and injury are, quite literally, limitless. Each negligence claim requires a close look at the facts to see which drivers deviated from the duty to use “reasonable care” and to what degree.
Notably, in many contexts, the heightened standard of care imposed on certain commercial operators is mandated by statute or regulation. This may trigger a legal concept known as negligence per se, which allows acts in violation of a governing statute or regulation to be considered automatically negligent.
Evaluating a negligence claim and determining whether negligence per se applies requires a close look by a company vehicle accident lawyer at the facts and governing law. The company vehicle accident attorneys at Zinda Law Group have handled hundreds of negligence cases and are prepared to handle yours. If you were hurt by a company vehicle, call us and request to schedule a meeting to speak with a personal injury lawyer near you.
When Does Liability Begin?
Another point to bear in mind is that, in commercial vehicle cases, liability often begins long before the date of the accident; for example, parties may be considered at fault for the long-term perpetuation of unsafe company practices. They may also be at fault for negligent hiring (not properly vetting potential employees), negligent supervision (not properly ensuring work is being performed safely), or negligent retention (not removing an employee after their dangerous propensities become apparent). To avoid costly liability, companies may even cover up their violations and repeated violations.
Again, all of these potential sources of negligence may arise long before the date of an accident. Further, proving these kinds of misbehaviors generally requires intensive factual investigations. Unscrupulous defendants may try to frustrate the process by hiding incriminating evidence.
Our in Houston are ready to handle your case. Let our company vehicle accident lawyers investigate the facts and fight for you. Call us to speak with a Houston personal injury lawyer today.
What Is Vicarious Liability?
In many commercial vehicle cases, the legal concept of “vicarious liability,” which is a way of holding one party liable for the negligent acts of another, may also come into play. In particular, a special kind of vicarious liability known as respondeat superior may be used to hold an employer liable for the wrongful acts of an employee when those acts occurred within the scope of the employment.
Proving the vicarious liability of an employer is often a high stakes issue in situations where the negligent employee would not be able to pay out damages on their own. However, to successfully show an employer’s vicarious liability, a plaintiff must show that
1. The employee’s negligence was in the course and scope of their employment, and
2. The employer had the right to control the means and methods (e.g., driving a company vehicle) the employee used to achieve the goals of their employment.
The first requirement—course and scope—may run into factual distinction between a “detour” and a “frolic.” A detour is a minor and permissible deviation from the scope of employment; a frolic is an unauthorized and substantial deviation. An employer may be liable for an employee’s negligence during a detour but not during a frolic. As one might imagine, defining the course, scope, and degrees of deviation from either can become factually intensive based on the nature of the employment.
The second requirement—the employer’s right of control—may run into the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor. An employer has a right to control the means and methods an employee uses in performing their duties, but not the means and methods of an independent contractor. Accordingly, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the negligence of an employee but not for that of an independent contractor.
One interesting area that is unfolding in the law is the rideshare industry. Courts across jurisdictions are still determining whether rideshare drivers are employees or independent contractors; of course, rideshare companies have a number of strong incentives to classify their drivers as independent contractors, not least of which is that such a classification allows them to avoid vicarious liability for their driver’s accidents. Our company vehicle accident lawyers are well acquainted with this developing area of the law.
Finally, one notable exception to non-liability for the negligence of independent contractors comes about in the context of “abnormally dangerous” activities. If someone hires an independent contractor to engage in such an activity (for example, hauling a tank of highly corrosive chemicals across the country), they may still be liable for related accidents. Further, accidents caused by abnormally dangerous activities often result in “strict liability,” which means that liability may attach even if all possible precautions were taken; in these scenarios, mere causation and harm may be enough.
Again, successfully arguing vicarious liability is often a central component of a plaintiff’s personal injury case. If you have been hurt by a company vehicle, you may find yourself in this position. If so, it is especially important that you consult with an experienced company vehicle accident lawyer, so call Zinda Law Group to speak with one of our Houston company vehicle accident lawyers today.
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What Is Comparative Fault?
Many states, including Texas, apply the rule of comparative fault. First, if a plaintiff is partially at fault for an accident, their recovery is reduced proportionally. For example, if a court finds that a plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages but that they were 30 percent responsible for the accident, then the plaintiff may only recover $70,000 in damages. Further, “a claimant may not recover [any] damages if his percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent.”
Proving comparative fault is often highly contentious. Further, though the law theoretically proposes that someone may be “50 percent” at fault, a jury often struggles to differentiate the hairsplitting difference between 49 percent and 50 percent. Ultimately, the difference is made not by the numerical distinction but by the persuasiveness of the arguments presented to the jury.
Zinda Law Group injury lawyers in Houston have years and years of experience making these arguments. Call today for a free consultation with a commercial vehicle wreck attorney in Houston today.
Read More: Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33, Proportionate Responsibility
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
Finally, every personal injury case is governed by a statute of limitations set by the state in which the accident occurred; this is very simple but all important. Essentially, a statute of limitations sets a deadline after an accident after which a claim cannot be brought; the deadline acts as a virtually absolute bar to bringing a case. The statute of limitations in Texas is set at two years; in other words, if you do not bring suit within two years after the date of your accident in Houston, you have forfeited your chance for compensation.
If you have been involved in an accident and are considering bringing suit for compensation, do not hesitate to speak with a company vehicle lawyer. Time is of the essence; the sooner you reach out to a company vehicle accident lawyer, the more time they will have to evaluate your case, investigate the facts, review the governing law, and strategize your path toward maximum compensation. Our Houston car accidents lawyers are only a call away.
Read More: Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003, Two-Year Limitations Period
Our Houston company vehicle accident lawyers can help
Company vehicle accidents are not your everyday kind of auto accident; they can be factually and legally very complex. Further, because they frequently involve high monetary stakes, they can be very hotly contested. At Zinda Law Group, we believe that no victim of personal injury should lack excellent legal representation; our attorneys pride themselves in providing that representation.
If you or a loved one was injured by a company vehicle, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation with our Houston personal injury attorneys. Tell us about your case, and we will tell you how we can help.
Meetings with attorneys are available by appointment only.
AWARDED TO JOHN C. (JACK) ZINDA BY THE NATIONAL TRIAL LAWYERS ASSOCIATION (2016-2020)
AWARDED TO JOHN C. (JACK) ZINDA (2009, 2011-2012, 2014-2021), JOE CAPUTO (2019-2021), BURGESS WILLIAMS (2019-2020), & NEIL SOLOMON (2020-2021)
AWARDED TO JACK ZINDA (2016-2020), JOE CAPUTO (2016 – 2020) & BURGESS WILLIAMS (2016-2017)
LIFETIME MEMBERS JOHN C. (JACK) ZINDA & JOE CAPUTO