Here are the most important legal terms you need to know.

If you have been involved in an Austin truck accident, there are several important Legal Terms you need to know.  Understanding these terms will help you better understand the complexities of your accident and case.

Navigating the legal process when it comes to truck accidents can be very complicated.  Call Steven C. Lee and Associates and their team of experts will begin helping you immediately.


Lawyer (Attorney)

lawyer or attorney is a person who advises individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes, and represents them in court and legal transactions. Also called attorneys, lawyers inform their clients about their legal rights and obligations, and help lead them through the complexities of the law.


plaintiff refers to the individual or individuals who is initiating a lawsuit against another part.  Typically, the plaintiff is the party injured during an accident.  In wrongful death cases, the plaintiff may be the estate or the descendants family.


defendant is an individual, company, or institution sued or accused of an action that harmed another party. The defendant is the individual or entity who is sued in a civil lawsuit. In trucking accidents, the defendant may be the truck driver, trucking company, or even a parts manufacturer.

 Accident Reconstructionist

Accident Reconstructionist are experts that investigate the scene of an accident, the vehicles involved, take photographs, and collect data to determine how an accident occurred.  Accident Reconstructionist are employed by law firms to investigate truck accidents to determine accident fault and cause.

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is the license required to legally operate commercial vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,000 pounds. In Texas, Commercial Driver’s Licenses are issued by TxDot.  There are three basic classes of CDLs:

  • Class A -Permits the holder to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle or vehicles towed exceeds 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B – Permits the holder to operate any single vehicle with a  GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, anyone one of those vehicles towing a vehicle that does not exceed 10,000 pounds GVWR, and any vehicle designed to transport 24 passengers or more, including the driver.  If the skills test is taken in a bus with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds, the holder will be restricted to operating buses under 26,001 pounds GVWR.
  • Class C – Permits the holder to operate any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not a Class A or B if the vehicle is designed to transport 16 to 23 passengers including the driver, or used in the transportation of hazardous materials.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages is the amount of money awarded to a plaintiff to compensate them for damages, injury, or another incurred loss. Compensatory damages are awarded in civil court cases where loss has occurred as a result of the negligence or unlawful conduct of another party.

To receive compensatory damages, the plaintiff has to prove that a loss occurred and that it was attributable to the defendant. The plaintiff must also be able to quantify the amount of loss in the eyes of the jury or judge.

Compensatory damages are split into economic damages (eg: lost wages and medical bills) and non-economic damages (eg: pain and suffering). In addition to compensatory damages, a defendant may also be awarded punitive damages.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is an agency of the federal government responsible for helping maintain and develop the nation’s transportation systems including the trucking industry.

Electronic Log Device (ELD)

An Electronic Log Device is used to electronically record a driver’s Record of Duty Status (RODS), which replaces the paper logbook some drivers currently use to record their compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) requirements.  Effective December 18, 2018, the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule was established to mandate such devices in commercial vehicles.

Electronic Control Module (ECM)

An Electronic Control Module (“ECM”) is a small computer that collects commercial trucks.  ECMs control and monitor the vehicle’s operations. This includes recording information such as engine performance, speed, hour of operation, and any mechanical problems

ECM data is critically important in helping prove driver fatigue or negligence by the trucking company. When driver or company logs differ from the ECM usage data, it is a strong indication of poor internal control by the company in ensuring compliance with trucking regulations.

As the ECM belongs to the trucking company, it is crucial that ECM data is immediately recovered and preserved before the trucking company deletes it.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is an agency in the United States Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry in the United States. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR)

The FMCSR is a set of guidelines that set the minimum standards for anyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

From a legal standpoint, “interstate commerce” includes transportation, trade or traffic that takes place from one state to another, including transportation from a state across U.S. borders. It’s important to note that there are also intrastate regulations that can preclude the federal regulations and apply only to the operations that stay within state lines. With so many rules, regulations and exemptions, the FMCSR can get complicated very quickly.

While there’s a common misconception that the regulations only apply to tractor trailers, they actually become applicable for any vehicle with a weight of 10,0001 pounds or greater. That means that a heavy-duty pickup truck, such as a Ford F-350, pulling a small axle trailer with a tractor on it must comply with the federal regulations. Even if that vehicle is being used for non-commercial purposes, it may fall under the FMCSR requirements.

Hours-of-Service (HOS)

Hours of Service (HOS) refers to regulations issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and govern the working hours of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States. These regulations apply to truck drivers, commercial and city bus drivers, and school bus drivers who operate CMVs. These rules limit the number of daily and weekly hours spent driving and working, and regulate the minimum amount of time drivers must spend resting between driving shifts. For intrastate commerce, the respective state’s regulations apply.

The driver of a CMV is required to keep a record of working hours using a log book, outlining the total number of hours spent driving and resting, as well as the time at which the change of duty status occurred. In lieu of a log book, a motor carrier may keep track of a driver’s hours using Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), which automatically record the amount of time spent driving the vehicle.

The HOS’s main purpose is to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue. This is accomplished by limiting the number of driving hours per day, and the number of driving and working hours per week. Fatigue is also prevented by keeping drivers on a 21- to 24-hour schedule, maintaining a natural sleep/wake cycle. Drivers are required to take a daily minimum period of rest, and are allowed longer “weekend” rest periods to combat cumulative fatigue effects that accrue on a weekly basis.

Enforcement of the HOS is generally handled by DOT officers of each state, and are sometimes checked when CMVs pass through weigh stations. Drivers found to be in violation of the HOS can be forced to stop driving for a certain period of time, which may negatively affect the motor carrier’s safety rating.


A logbook is a collection of records that detail drivers activities such as on duty hours, driving hours and time spent in a sleeper berth.

Effective December 18, 2017, the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule became mandatory for most commercial vehicle drivers. This means that paper records are no longer sufficient, and ELDs must be installed in commercial trucks. These small electronic devices connect to the vehicle’s engine, and track how long the truck has been in motion. Drivers caught operating trucks without ELDs will be cited and fined, and safety inspectors may remove these vehicles from service.

Commercial truck operators are required by law to take off at least 10 consecutive hours between shifts. Truckers cannot be on duty for more than 14 consecutive hours, and they’re not permitted to spend over 11 of those hours actually driving.

Federal regulations also stipulate that truckers are limited to driving a total of 60 hours during a seven-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-day period. Truck drivers must then rest for a minimum of 34 consecutive hours prior to starting a new driving period.


Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. Negligence must be proven before you can hold a person or company legally responsible for the harm you suffered. Proving negligence is required in most claims from accidents or injuries, such as truck accident cases. Negligence claims must prove four things in court: duty, breach, causation, and damages/harm.

Generally speaking, when someone acts in a careless way and causes an injury to another person, under the legal principle of “negligence” the careless person will be legally liable for any resulting harm. This basis for assessing and determining fault is utilized in most disputes involving an accident or injury, during informal settlement talks and up through a trial in a personal injury lawsuit.

In order to win a negligence case, the plaintiff (the person injured) must prove four elements to show that the defendant (the person allegedly at fault) acted negligently:

  1. Duty – The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances;
  2. Breach  – The defendant breached that legal duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way;
  3. Causation  – It was the defendant’s actions (or inaction) that actually caused the plaintiff’s injury; and
  4. Damages – The plaintiff was harmed or injured as a result of the defendant’s actions.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. NTSB investigates and reports on aviation accidents and incidents, certain types of highway crashes, ship and marine accidents, pipeline incidents, and railroad accidents. The NTSB does not have any power in regards to the creation or enforcement of regulations, but they are often called upon to investigate problems or serious accidents. This information is then relayed back to other government agencies such as the FMCSA with recommendations.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are the amount of money a defendant must pay as punishment for outrageous conduct and/or to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of a specific lawsuit. 

Although there is no maximum sum, punitive damages typically do not exceed four times the amount of compensatory damages. For example, if a plaintiff recovers $100,000 in compensatory damages and is awarded punitive damages, he or she most likely will receive up to $400,000 in punitive damages

Safety Rating

Safety Rating is an evaluation given to a company which operates trucks or buses by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

A safety rating is determined by a compliance review, an on-site examination of motor carrier operations, such as drivers’ hours of service, maintenance and inspection, driver qualification, commercial drivers’ license requirements, financial responsibility, accidents, hazardous materials, and other safety and transportation records to determine whether a motor carrier meets the safety standard guidelines.

One of three safety ratings will be issued following a compliance review:

  1. Satisfactory – A Satisfactory rating means that a motor carrier has in place and functioning adequate safety management controls to meet the safety standard guidelines. Safety management controls are adequate if they are appropriate for the size and type of operation of the particular motor carrier.
  2. Conditional – This rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard.
  3. Unsatisfactory – An Unsatisfactory rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety standard guidelines.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time the parties involved have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense, whether civil or criminal. However, cases involving serious crimes, like murder, typically have no maximum period under a statute of limitations.  With Texas truck accidents the Statute of Limitations is 2 years and that time starts the moment of the accident.