More and more, people are on the roads and highways as part of their daily lives – from driving to and from work, to picking up their kids from school. Driving alongside these families and working professionals are commercial motor vehicles. Federal regulations and state laws heavily regulate the use of commercial vehicles, and these laws are put into place to protect people from the severe truck accidents that can leave injured claimants with extensive bodily injuries and property damage to their cars.
Both state and federal governments have strong interests in regulating commercial vehicles because of the vehicles’ size, weight and purpose (transporting a lot of cargo or several passengers). This means that when a commercial motor vehicle driver is involved in an accident with another person, the results can be devastating.
What is a motor carrier?
Usually, a motor carrier is a trucking company. Generally, there are two types of motor carriers, (1) intrastate carriers and (2) interstate carriers.
Interstate carriers are usually vehicles that transport people or cargo across state lines, and must register with the Secretary of Transportation. Because they cross state lines, interstate carriers are usually controlled by federal laws. Interstate carriers that cross over multiple states also have to follow extra rules such as:
- Registering with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a United States agency that regulates the trucking industry in the county,
- Get permission from FMCSA to operate,
- Get a U.S. Department of Transportation number,
- Follow safety regulations,
- Maintain the duties of their employees,
- Follow safety fitness requirements.
Basically, it is the job of the motor carrier to make sure they hire the right employees and drivers, supervise their employees and train their employees so that they are responsible.
How does an injured claimant hold a commercial motor carrier responsible?
There are many potential legal theories and arguments an injured claimant’s attorney can raise in order to get the compensation he or she deserves. Below are a few options:
- Negligent Operation of the Vehicle: this can include failing to put warnings on the ground nearby when a commercial vehicle is disabled, driving when tired or exhausted or driving during dangerous conditions.
- Negligent Inspection or Maintenance: this can include not making sure the breaks are fully functional and calibrated, that the windshield is not cracked and impairing the driver or that the tires have a good tread.
- Negligent Hiring, Retention or Entrustment: this can include failing to run thorough background checks on the driver, not providing enough training for the job or allowing the driver to keep working and driving after multiple violations.
On the other hand, intrastate carriers only transport people or goods inside state lines, and have to follow the laws of the state.
While an interstate carrier has to designate, or pick, a “base state” where it has its headquarters, known as its principal place of business, under the Uniform Carrier Registration System, a state cannot force interstate carriers to get its permission to operate or file its insurance information with the state as well.
What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle?
First, it is worth noting that each state has its own unique laws that apply in each case. In addition, there is often some overlap with federal laws that may control a particular case depending on the case’s unique situation and facts. It is for this reason that if you are hurt by a commercial vehicle, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Definition of a Commercial Motor Vehicle in Texas
Under the Texas Transportation Code Section 548.001(1), a “commercial motor vehicle” means “a self-propelled or towed vehicle, other than a farm vehicle with a gross weight, registered weight, or gross weight rating of less than 48,000 pounds, that is used on a public highway to transport passengers or cargo if:
(A) the vehicle, including a school activity bus as defined in Section 541.201, or combination of vehicles has a gross weight, registered weight, or gross weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds;
(B) the vehicle, including a school activity bus as defined in Section 541.201, is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver; or
(C) the vehicle is used to transport hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding by a regulation issued under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.
In other words, a commercial motor vehicle a vehicle that is more than 26,000 pounds, carries 15 people or moves hazardous materials.
Definition of a Commercial Motor Vehicle under Federal Law
Under the Code of Federal Regulations, “Commercial motor vehicle” means any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle
(1) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
(2) Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
(3) Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
(4) Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.
The federal law is comparable to the state’s definition, though its definition is broader and can apply to more vehicles since the standard to be considered a commercial vehicle is lower.
The FMCSA made many laws creating minimum standards for both the motor carrier companies and their drivers. These laws cover a wide range of matters, from the safety features like up-to-date technology and equipment, to how long drivers should be on the road before resting.
The goal of safety laws involving large trucks and buses is to reduce crashes, injuries and deaths from accidents.
This is the reason that drivers with a commercial driver license are held to a higher standard than the average driver, and can have their driver license suspended or completely terminated when they fail to meet these standards.
Most people know that drivers should not be on the road when they are impaired, sick or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But drivers with a commercial driver license also have to meet other health requirements, like not having a current medical history that shows the driver could become suddenly ill on the road and risk the driver’s safety as well as the safety of others.
For example, the law does not allow drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles if they have an epilepsy diagnosis, a recent history of having heart attacks or other heart issues, breathing problems or high blood pressure that can pose a safety threat. Commercial vehicle drivers also cannot have physical illnesses like arthritis if it makes it hard for them to be able to control a commercial motor vehicle.
When a trucking company and its insurance company refuses to follow these laws, they need to be held responsible.
Understanding which laws apply to a particular case and trucking company requires specialized knowledge, and being able to engage in successful negotiation requires skill and experience.
Insurance Companies for Commercial Motor Vehicles
Most commercial carriers have insurance, as required by the law. The insurance companies are supposed to help injured claimants receive compensation for their damages. Unfortunately, insurance companies are businesses without an incentive to pay a claim any sooner than they need. Instead, insurance companies often use tactics to cause delay because they know that time is on their side.
It is for this reason that it is important to hire a personal injury lawyer who understands how insurance companies work.
For example, one issue that an inexperienced attorney may run into is spending time and energy negotiating with someone who does not have the authority to agree to a settlement agreement and provide compensation for an injured claimant. Let’s say an injured claimant faces a large amount of damages, such as a claim with a value of over $100,000 for a commercial claim. It is possible that the first insurance adjuster who the claimant and his attorney speak with does not even have enough authority to settle the case. Insurance companies have a complex, internal structure made up of different layers of employees. Sometimes, the injured claimant’s attorney needs to work through multiple levels of employees in the insurance company before finding the right person who can actually give the injured claimant the compensation he or she deserves.
If you are hurt by an 18-wheeler or commercial motor vehicle, hire the right personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer
Without experience in the insurance industry or legal experience, understanding which factors or evidence can help or hurt your case can be difficult to understand.
Are you trying to secure your financial recovery with the help of experienced attorneys? If so, we can help.
The Pusch & Nguyen Law Firm has helped countless Texans handle their insurance disputes. Our experienced trial lawyers have gone up against some of the biggest names in the insurance industry while successfully bringing home payouts for clients. Our successful reputation speaks for itself, and with offices in both Houston and San Antonio, we are well equipped to assist Texans who are in dire need of our services. Register online for a free case evaluation or call us today at 713-524-8139 (Houston) or 210-702-3000 to schedule an appointment with a member of our team.