In a Trucking Accident? Here Are Your Next Steps

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With almost 700,000 miles of highways and interstates, it is no surprise that Texas leads all other states in accidents involving large trucks and commercial motor vehicles.

In 2013, (the most recent data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) 493 fatal accidents involving a large truck occurred in Texas. That number equates to 12.6% – more than twice any other state – of the total number of fatal accidents involving a large truck in the United States. That trend continued in 2015, as the Texas Department of Transportation reported 505 fatal crashes – out of a total of 34,230 – involving a commercial motor vehicle.

Due to this staggering number of accidents on our roads, our office receives many calls from victims or their families after having been involved in one of these accidents. Those potential clients tend to have similar questions and concerns, a few of which we have provided below along with our typical response.

  1. How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

In Texas, the statute of limitations on an Austin personal injury claim is two years, but we recommend hiring an attorney and beginning the process of litigation much sooner than that.  Evidence related to the truck and the scene of the accident may be crucial to the case, so it is important to have that evidence inspected and preserved as soon as possible. We have also found it easier to obtain evidence such as data from the truck’s event recorder, the driver’s trip logs and cell phone records, and videos from a nearby store or a police officer’s dash camera if those items are requested soon after the accident.

  1. How can we prove the accident was the truck driver’s fault?

There are many occasions when despite receiving a citation from an investigating officer, the truck company (or its insurance company) denies any liability.  There are also instances when an investigating officer accepts the truck driver’s story of the event and finds the potential client responsible for the accident.  This does not mean there is not a claim worth pursuing.  It just means there is heightened importance on the gathering and presentation of evidence to a jury.  Moving quickly to gather the evidence described above is the most important step, but hiring an accident reconstructionist is not far behind. A qualified engineer can analyze data related to the roadway, the dimensions of the truck and the truck’s speed of travel to create computer models of the accident that Texas courts routinely allow to be shown to a jury.  Shaw Cowart has established good working relationships with multiple engineers in this field.

  1. What types of damages can I recover?

Generally, a plaintiff in a Texas personal injury lawsuit can recover damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and disfigurement.  (The spouse of the injured party may also have a claim for loss of consortium.)  In addition, punitive damages may be recoverable if there were aggravating circumstances related to the accident, such as a driver’s intoxication.

One thing that has significantly changed personal injury litigation in Texas is a change in the law a few years ago with regard to how medical bills are computed.  As part of a tort reform movement in Texas, the legislature instituted what is referred to as a “paid and incurred” limit to the amount a plaintiff can recover for its past medical bills. Health insurance companies often have agreements with medical providers to pay a reduced amount that is less than the total price charged to the patient.  In that event, a plaintiff now can only recover the amount that is actually paid or incurred, as opposed to the amount the medical provider charged before the insurance adjustment.

Because of this limit, it is very important to maximize the recovery of those elements of damages other than past medical treatment. We’ve found that the most effective way to maximize that recovery is to hire a qualified life care planner. The physician will examine the patient and prepare a written life care plan that details the type and amount of future medical treatment he or she will be required to undergo.  The life care planner will also detail any limitations the patient is likely to face when it comes to home, work and leisure activities.

  1. Is there anything I can do about my mounting medical bills?

In the event the client does not have sufficient health insurance to cover the costs of medical treatment, there are a couple of options to help reduce the added stress of calls and letters from bill collectors.  First, we will review the client’s auto insurance policy to see if she paid for personal injury protection, or “PIP.”  In Texas, insurers are required to offer the insured PIP and obtain a signature denying that coverage.  If PIP coverage was purchased – or there is not a signed waiver of that purchase – PIP can be used to pay medical bills resulting from the accident.  One major benefit of PIP is that those payments are non-subrogable, meaning that the insurance company does not have to be paid back out of the client’s recovery.  Another tool a lawyer can use to help a client lacking the insurance or funds to obtain medical treatment is to provide the doctor with a letter of protection, or “LOP.”  A letter of protection is not a guarantee, but rather an assurance that the client has retained an attorney to recover money on his behalf and that the doctor’s bills will be paid out of any recovery.  It is quite common for medical providers in Texas to accept the attorney’s assurance that she will ensure that a doctor’s bills are paid once the case is resolved.

Please give Shaw Cowart a call at 512-499-8900 if you or someone you know has been involved in a truck accident.