A crash on the afternoon of December 19 caused a fairly significant problem on Loop 1604 in San Antonio, between Stone Oak and Highway 281 – a utility truck was involved in an accident, which then caused it to leak a substantial amount of fuel onto the roadway. While ultimately, no injuries were reported, these types of crashes can be dangerous, and they can also pose complex questions about just who is liable if injuries or fatalities do occur.
Utility Trucks Occupy Unusual Legal Ground
Trucks are grouped under the law by their weight, in most situations. Pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles are regulated the same way as automobiles. 18-wheelers and other big rigs are usually overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and other authorities that can competently regulate commercial trucking and its nitty-gritty details. Utility trucks very often wind up in the middle, both in terms of weight and in terms of the regulations imposed upon them, and it is because they can differ significantly in terms of size and weight within that classification.
Texas has very few regulations that apply specifically to utility trucks, but many of the most common tend to be treated as pickup trucks – for example, communications companies and landscaping businesses use utility trucks which are retrofitted pickups. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that while they may be the same size as a personal or private vehicle, they are invariably treated as commercial vehicles. This may put their employers on the proverbial hook.
Potential Vicarious Liability Issues
The reason it is important to understand that utility trucks are invariably commercial is that in Texas, a doctrine called vicarious liability means that employers can often be held liable for the torts committed by their employees within the scope of employment. Thus, if you are injured in an accident with a utility truck while the driver was on the clock or engaged in work for their employer, you may not only be able to bring suit against the driver (who is often going to be judgment proof, or unable to pay your bills), you may be able to sue their employer as well.
Another possible liable party, depending on the facts of your situation, is the governmental entity that operates the utility truck. Not only private companies use these vehicles – many municipal and state entities will use them, especially the larger ones such as cherry pickers. Governmental entities in Texas can be sued if the circumstances of your suit would qualify under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) – in some instances, the state or smaller governmental entities are immune from suit, but the TTCA allows lawsuits against them to go forward in certain situations, most notably if an auto accident occurs due to negligence or recklessness on the part of a public employee.
Ask an Attorney for Help Today
While we see utility trucks on our roads constantly, one never thinks about how they are regulated until we have the misfortune to experience one up close and personal. If you have been the victim of a utility truck crash, contacting a skilled New Braunfels auto accident lawyer can be the first step toward recovery. The Bettersworth Law Firm has handled many of these cases, and is happy to talk with you about handling yours. Contact us today at 888-392-0039 to schedule a free consultation.