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The Texas Supreme Court ruled against the parents of a man who lost his life driving for an oil company. By doing so, the court raised the bar for other families attempting to be compensated after a fatal truck driver crash. The court limited families to the paltry funds provided by the Texas Workers Compensation Act. That law sets up an exchange where a limited amount of money is paid to an employee and family in exchange for them giving up the right to sue the company for its negligence. The Act is the exclusive remedy for on-the-job accidents. However there is an exception if the injury was intentionally caused by the employer and was substantially certain to happen.

What caused this fatal truck driver crash to happen?

Fabian Escobedo, 48, had safely driven his company's oil tanker for many years. One morning at 3:00 a.m., after working an astonishing 138 hours in the last eight days, he drove off the road, hit a pole, rolled over, and tragically lost his life. He had presumably fallen asleep at the wheel, a common problem for commercial truck drivers. Many trucking companies dispatch their vehicles with inexperienced, overworked, and tired drivers at the wheel. The trucks can also be carrying unsafe and overweight loads. As a result, over 5,000 commercial trucks were involved in a deadly crash last year. Fatal collisions have happened more frequently during the oil and gas boom across Texas. After a deadly collision with an 18-wheeler or company vehicle, it is essential that a family hire the best truck accident lawyer if a family member tragically loses their life.  More information about the steps someone should take is here: Fatal commercial truck crash in Texas: what to do

The lawsuit

Mr. Escobedo's parents filed a lawsuit against Mo-Vac Services to collect damages under the Texas wrongful death and survival statutes. They produced evidence that the company forced its drivers to work many more hours than the number permitted under the hours of service rules established by federal and state law. This fatal truck driver crash happened in 2012 in south Texas when oil companies could not find enough drivers to meet the huge demand. Mr. Escobedo's supervisor said that some drivers worked almost 24 hours a day. Their trucks had no sleeper berths. Their ability to sleep was minimal. The company's management made the employees falsify their logbooks and fired them if they objected. Now logbooks have to be recorded electronically on apps like this one to prevent blatant fraud. Mr. Escobedo's parents argued that Mo-Vac knew that forcing Mr. Escobedo to drive these excessive hours made the collision substantially certain to occur. In addition, they showed that their son had suffered "conscious pain and suffering" before his death. Mo-Vac filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiffs appealed.

The appeal to the Court of Appeals

The Corpus Christi court denied most of the parents' claims. However it remanded the case to determine if their son had suffered conscious pain and prior to his death that would permit damages under the Texas survival statute. Mo-Vac appealed.

The decision from the Texas Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the company and made it virtually impossible for an employee or their surviving family to obtain damages after an on-the-job injury or death. Damages can be awarded if the business (not the employee or safety experts) believes "that its actions are substantially certain to result in a particular injury," not just "highly likely to increase overall risks to employees." The concurring opinion filed by Justice Guzman notes that these events will not satisfy this onerous standard:
  • Failing to provide a safe workplace;
  • Removing safety guards;
  • Requiring long hours;
  • Failing to train for a dangerous job; and
  • Proving gross or willful negligence.
Justice Guzman also wrote that the state legislature must amend the Texas workers compensation act and allow the deceased worker's parents to be paid benefits. Mr. Escobedo had no spouse or children.

Overtired truck driver cases

Many commercial truck drivers work more than the law allows. Drowsy drivers cause many car and truck crashes. After an 18-wheeler collision, the personal injury lawyer obtains evidence to prove that the commercial truck driver was negligent. Violations of safety regulations and hours of service rules can be the key to winning the case. Key evidence includes driving records, cell phone calls, texts, GPS information, emails, truck inspections, bills of lading, and credit card receipts. Every truck collision needs to be investigated by an experienced commercial truck accident lawyer. He needs to determine what caused the wreck to happen so that the individual and their family can be properly compensated for their damages and prevent other collisions from happening. Berenson Injury Law has represented individuals who have been injured and the families of those who were in a fatal truck driver crash in Texas for over 40 years. For a free evaluation of a truck accident, please contact Texas truck wreck lawyer Bill Berenson. More posts on this subject: Truck driver fatigue: a deadly danger How good truck investigation can win case Tractor trailer crashes have to be stopped

Thousands of crashes are caused by commercial truck driver fatigue

One of the chief reasons that 18-wheelers crash into smaller cars and trucks is truck driver fatigue. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that tired truckers cause up to 13% of these collisions and admits that this number is under reported. Commercial truck wrecks horribly take the lives of close to 5,000 people a year. This photo is from a case we resolved this year when the tractor-trailer driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel on Interstate 35 in Fort Worth. This tragically caused the death of a woman on a motorcycle and serious injuries to our client and other people. Texas sees far too many of these collisions. That is because we have the most miles of public roads (313,000), most licensed drivers (over 13 million), five of the top 13 most populated cities, and the busiest interstate highways. Fatigued drivers cause thousands of truck crashes each year including heart-breaking ones like these:
  • A woman's son and three of his friends were killed when a truck driver fell asleep and plowed into their vehicle; and
  • Two parents and their two young children were driving home when a trucker who was asleep at the wheel slammed into their vehicle, killing the family.
  • Tracy Morgan and his friends getting crashed into by a WalMart driver who had been driving for over 24 straight hours.
The problem of tired commercial truck drivers is a major problem. And it is getting worse, especially with the financial losses that many truck companies have suffered over the past few years. This has increased the pressure to move freight even faster across more crowded highways.

Smokey and the Bandit mentality will stop.

Starting next month, all trucking companies must start complying with the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. While this might seem like a technical issue that only people in the trucking industry would care about, it's an important safety improvement for all of us. You might not remember the 1977 comedy Smokey and the Bandit. Audiences cheered as the truck driver raced against time and outwitted the police to get beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. He made it with only 10 minutes to spare, then won a big bet by continuing driving to Boston in 18 hours. Today drivers often race against the clock to get their load delivered by unreasonable deadlines. And they may not stop to take a much-needed rest break either. But tired truck drivers often cause real life tragedies. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 13 percent of commercial drivers were fatigued when they crashed their trucks -- so you know the number is much higher. The FMCSA addressed this risk factor by strengthening hours of service (HOS) rules which restrict the number of hours a truck driver is allowed to drive and work each week and mandates rest breaks. The HOS regulations also require drivers to maintain logbooks that demonstrate they are in compliance. But skirting these rules has been far too easy.

Truck driver Rene Flores drove long past the hours allowed by law, then he doctored his logbooks to cover it us. And his employers knew. The truck driver told his story to a journalist at USA Today, claiming he was fired when he complained. Of course, his employer tells a different story, putting the blame back on the driver. I have seen this type of situation in my law practice many times. Under federal and Texas laws, both driver and employer are liable for violations of hours of service laws and for injuries caused by the inevitable wreck. That is why I conduct a thorough investigation into the driver’s conduct and the employer’s policies and practices. Does the company set unrealistic delivery schedules? Or employ an unfair pay scheme that encourages its drivers to work dangerously long hours? Does the employer know about the hours of service violations? Is the trucker’s job threatened if he rocks the boat? In a shocking number of cases, the answers to all these questions is “yes.”

Driver Fell Asleep Behind the Wheel of his 18-Wheeler
The driver of a tractor-trailer was lucky to escape serious injuries when he slammed into a barrier wall on Interstate-35W during the early morning hours Thursday. The auto accident occurred at 2:45 a.m. and continued to snarl Thursday's morning rush hour traffic while crews cleared the crash. I35W near the split to Highway 121 remained partly closed until almost noon with only one lane allowing vehicles to creep by the accident scene. The trailer was carrying 38,000 pounds of frozen Brussels sprouts, which had to be unloaded before the truck could be up-righted by a large crane and towed away. (Great -- who wants to eat those any way?)

The big-rig spun out of control on the wet roads, hit the guardrail and flipped onto its side. The roads were slick with rainwater at the time. However, weather is not being cited as the cause of the 18-wheeler crash. Instead, investigators believe that the driver fell asleep at the wheel before losing control of the big-rig.

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