On February 11, 2021 133 vehicles were involved in a massive pileup crash on 35W near Fort Worth, Texas. Throughout February, Texas saw some highly unusual weather – including freezing temperatures, ice, and snow typically seen in more northern states. It was this weather that likely precipitated February’s tragic pileup.
Before the sun rose on the 11th, slick roadways led to a vehicle pileup crash in Texas. It killed at least six individuals and injured over 65 others. In the process of helping many victims, some of the first responders on the scene became injured.
Sadly, the fatalities and injuries reported in February are probably just the tip of the iceberg. The scene of the accident was so massive (over 1.5 miles in length) that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been called to investigate the wreckage. NTSB investigations may last 8 months or more, we will likely find out more about the causes of the disaster in the coming months.
Victims and witnesses are concerned that the design of the Tarrant Expressway could be partially to blame. The expressway in that area lacks a shoulder. Others claimed the roads were not properly treated for ice and the speed limits are too high for safe travel. With a disaster this size, there will probably be many contributing factors and liable parties.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions that arise in vehicle pileup cases and the lawsuits that may result. Let’s start by reviewing how investigators determine fault in a multiple car accident.
How Do Insurance Companies Determine Who Was at Fault in a Vehicle Pileup Crash?
More often than not, car accidents involve two cars. Occasionally, a pileup might involve up to ten cars. A vehicle pileup crash exceeding 100 cars is extraordinary to say the least. As you might imagine it is a lot more difficult to assess fault in accidents that involve so many vehicles. This is especially true in cases like this where the weather and road conditions were also a contributing factor.
Some victims of the Texas vehicle pile up accident have already filed lawsuits against the trucking companies involved in the accident, alleging the truck drivers contributed to the pileup by driving unsafely given the road conditions. In the coming months, there will certainly be more lawsuits filed. In cases involving dozens, if not hundreds, of plaintiffs, the cases may be consolidated into one mass litigation. Texas’s multi-district litigation panel will probably oversee the cases for the purpose of streamlining discovery and pretrial rulings.
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Does the NTSB Investigate Multi-Car Accidents?
Already, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has confirmed they are investigating the massive Texas pileup crash. While they said their initial investigation will only look into the road treatment techniques used by road crews prior to the incident, the investigation may expand. Some speculate the investigation will also consider why so many vehicles were traveling fast in the icy weather. Also, whether the design of the toll lanes created an “inescapable trap” for motorists.
As in other mass disasters (like airline crashes), the NTSB will apply similar investigative strategies to this incident. Police officers have also began taking witness statements and providing copies to insurance companies. That being said, some insurance companies will likely conduct their own investigation. Drivers working for large companies, like FedEx and other trucking companies, normally have higher level of insurance. Their insurance providers will probably conduct their own investigation, downplay the drivers’ involvement, and claim the accident was an Act of God.
What Kinds of Insurance Issues Will Result from the Pileup in Texas?
In a vehicle pileup of this size, it’s almost inevitable that under-insurance and un-insurance will be an issue. Most of those involved will have the minimum-required personal and liability insurance; expensive medical treatments may exceed what insurance covers.
Also, with this many vehicles some drivers may not have insurance at all. In their case, they could be personally liable for medical expenses and vehicle damages. Some of the trucking companies or corporate vehicles could be covered by a variety of different types of insurance. Their insurance companies may argue amongst themselves over whom should be required to pay for damages incurred.
Who Pays for a Mass Car Pileup?
Due to the insurance issues at play, there will likely be multiple parties responsible for paying the expenses and damages associated with this pileup. The liability insurance provider for all the cars involved will certainly be at risk. Gap policy providers will be liable for damages to newer vehicles where the damage exceeds what the vehicle is currently worth.
Uninsured individuals may be on the hook personally, plus they could be subject to fines and penalties for driving without insurance.
Trucking companies may have multiple insurance companies involved – like those responsible for liability coverage and those who cover the costs of damaged cargo.
Since this section of the road was built and maintained by a private company, the North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners (NTEMP), their insurance company may be liable if it is determined the road design or its maintenance contributed to the accidents. However, there will be no liability on behalf of Texas Department of Transportation, because government agencies are immune from this type of litigation.
As far as which drivers will be considered “at fault,” only time will tell. The first car that wrecked may have some liability, but it’s doubtful their insurance will cover a 133- car pileup. Liability may be shared between vehicles following too closely, traveling too fast, or not paying attention.
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What Are Some Anticipated Lawsuits in the Texas Pileup?
There will be a lot of personal injury lawsuits, insurance coverage disputes, and possibly even wrongful death suits for those that passed away from their injuries. Serious injury and death cases may involve claims for maintaining the road, treating the road for ice, and building the road.
How Soon Should Victims File a Claim?
There is a two-year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit – victims have until February 2023 to file a case. See, Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code §16.003. However, Texas is a “first come, first served” state so victims should file a claim as quickly as possible. This works in a way that insurance companies can pick and choose whom they want to settle with. The longer an individual waits to file a claim, the less likely they are to receive a settlement. For smaller insurance policies, there’s a risk the insurance policy may deplete before the statute of limitations ends. That risk can leave those who are late to file without any recourse.
The Personal Injury Attorneys at Underwood Law Office Can Help
A disaster this size is both tragic and complicated. With so many victims and contributing factors, some parties will try to escape liability. The best way to get the assistance you deserve is to speak with an experienced multi-car accident attorney.
At Underwood Law Office, we’ve dealt with numerous car accidents, tragedies, and mass disasters. As a McKinney car accident lawyer we can help you gather information and deal with insurance companies to ensure you are compensated for your losses. To find out if you have a claim and establish a strategy for moving forward, contact us for a free consultation.