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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

What is the best way to recover damages after truck collision? Proving violations of federal regulations for 18 wheelers

Any driver knows that tractor trailers and other big trucks on the road are intimidating -- and sometimes very dangerous. This is why Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations for 18 wheeler trucks are so important. To keep drivers safe on the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has enacted specific rules. But often trucking companies and truck drivers do not follow them in their hurry to make money. Regulations that are often broken include the following.

Federal Regulations for Semi Trucks

The increasing number of accidents involving large trucks and the severity of the injuries they cause is a serious problem for motorists. While the effects of accidents involving 18-wheelers like the one pictured can be devastating, smaller commercial vehicles also pose a common safety risk. Trucks driven by plumbers, grass cutters, cable installers, florists, and other businesses rely on a fleet of vehicles to deliver their products or services. Are they held to the same safety regulations as larger vehicles?

Trucking Safety Regulations

The Role of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Fortunately the answer is yes -- depending on several factors. The FMCSA is the federal government agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The primary goal of the agency is to reduce crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities caused by large trucks and buses but it also has jurisdiction over smaller vehicles. States also have laws related to the license and driving requirements for commercial vehicles. Any business using commercial motor vehicles must obtain authority from both state and federal trucking authorities. Trucking safety regulations are important to every driver on the road. We share the roadways with all types of commercial trucks every day. While the FMCSA determines the regulations for all types of CMVs, it is up to the employers and the drivers to enforce them. A personal injury lawyer often finds that businesses and employers have failed to abide by federal trucking safety rules and are also at fault.

Which Vehicles Are Covered?

The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and the number of passengers a vehicle determines if a driver must have a commercial drivers license. CDL licenses ensure that drivers have increased training to handle a variety of conditions. Laws pertaining to the application and licensing process differ somewhat among the states. One consistency is that any vehicle with a weight of more than 26,001 pounds requires CDL licensure. Businesses that operate CMVs that alone (or combined with a trailer) weigh more than 10,001 pounds are required to register the vehicles and abide by the FMCSA trucking safety regulations. Some states have increased this weight limit to include trucks anywhere from 12,000 to 26,000 pounds, which coincides with the CDL requirements. Although a vehicle doesn’t require a CDL driver, many companies require the drivers to follow the same trucking safety regulations imparted by FMCSA. The key is understanding the different classes of CDL and weights that apply to different types of vehicles: Class A – Single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or a combination of vehicles with the towed vehicle having a GVWR over 10,000 pounds. Class B – Single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or more, or is towing a vehicle with a GVWR of no more than 10,000 pounds, or a farm trailer with a GVWR of no more than 20,000 pounds. Class C – A single or combination vehicle not included in Classes A or B. Single vehicles with a GVWR less than 26,001 pounds or towing a farm trailer with a GVWR of no more than 20,000 pounds. A vehicle designed to transport 23 or fewer passengers including the driver. An autocycle. Some of the most important regulations that apply to CDL drivers are the prohibitions against using alcohol, drugs, texting, hand-held phones, and driving while fatigued. These are some of the leading causes of truck crashes. Both CDL and non-CDL must follow these regulations and others, including using their seat belts and use of extreme caution during hazardous weather. If you have been injured in an accident involving any commercial vehicle, contact Berenson Injury Law. If the driver and/or the employer were negligent, you may have the right to collect compensation.

Garbage and recycling trucks are extremely dangerous to drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. The combination of their giant construction, improper maintenance, and poor drivers can make them accidents waiting to happen. These behemoths have caused many deaths and serious injuries in our area. Just a few months ago, another person died in a Fort Worth collision with one. These vehicles are inherently dangerous for many reasons, especially their massive size. The average truck weighs over 60,000 pounds versus the average car's weight of 3,000 pounds. Garbage truck drivers must have a commercial drivers licenses and are held to a higher standard of care under transportation statutes. Unfortunately some fail to live up to the more vigorous rules. Waste management is an enormous $100 billion a year industry and clearly has the resources to insure that safe trucks and drivers are on the roads. Our law firm has handled all types of commercial truck collision cases in Dallas - Fort Worth for the past 37 years and understands their complexities. We are fighting for our clients in a substantial garbage truck case now and have successfully handled others in the past.

You hear about our drug epidemic all the time. The U.S. had an estimated 64,000 deaths due to drug overdoses just in 2016. These are government statistics so you know the numbers are higher. It's crazy that as more and more people are popping these highly addictive drugs -- sometimes before or while they drive --most commercial truck companies were not even being tested. The Department of Transportation has long required testing of other drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and the illegal opioid heroin, and of course alcohol. Finally the DOT has caught up with the times. Semi-synthetic opioids were added to the mandatory panel starting January 1. Finally. Employers at 18-wheeler companies must now test their drivers for four popular prescription medications: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone. How many truckers take opioid drugs? Because testing was not required, there is no way to know. Often truck drivers were only tested after they crashed their tractor trailers and hurt others. But, 11.5 million people abused opioids in 2016 and as the DOT announcement noted "transportation industries are not immune to this trend and the safety issues it raises.”

Trucking companies are subject to strict rules regarding the inspection, maintenance, and repair of their vehicles. These laws serve the primary purpose of keeping dangerous trucks off the road. That's good for the rest of us drivers -- as long as those rules are enforced. When a tractor trailer causes a crash, its inspection records serve a valuable role in proving negligence, which is the key to a successful truck accident settlement or trial. To best use this evidence here, a Fort Worth injury attorney studies safety regulations and knows where to locate inspection reports, past violations, and the truck's and company's crash history.

Truck companies have a duty to maintain safe vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has the authority to pass and enforce maintenance and inspection regulations concerning commercial vehicles. These trucking regulations apply to motor vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 lbs. or more and to trucks that carry hazardous materials. Any company, whether a one-man operation or a large multinational corporation, is responsible for inspecting and maintaining its vehicles and repairing problems before putting its trucks back on the road. The company is also required to keep its records for one year and make them available to inspectors. Failure to do so is a violation of the FMCSA regulations.

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.

So why aren’t big-rig safety features mandatory?

Passing a tractor-trailer on a highway can be a scary experience. What if you are in the driver's blind spot, he switches lanes, and crashes into your car? It happens all the time. Equally nerve-racking is seeing an 18-wheeler in your rear view mirror bearing down on you. What if that driver doesn't brake in time and hits your vehicle with his enormous tractor-trailer? New technology could make these concerns a thing of the past. The AAA Foundation just released an enlightening study that concluded four technological features could prevent 77,077 accidents that cause over 23,000 injuries and 500 fatalities every year. This is exciting news -- if trucking companies actually use this technology.

Actress Jayne Mansfield was famous for her sexy image. She starred in many movies in the 50's and 60's, won acting awards, and was one of the first Playmates. The Dallas resident studied at UT and SMU where I graduated in the 70's. But Mansfield is tragically remembered for the tragic tractor-trailer accident that killed her in 1967. Mansfield was a passenger in a Buick that slammed into the back of an 18 wheeler. The car slid underneath the trailer’s carriage and killed her and two other adult passengers. She was only 34. Two other people died but miraculously her two children were not injured. Her legacy survives today, not only in film and photographs, but every time you see a tractor-trailer. Her crash directly led to regulations requiring installation of red and white bars at the rear of semi-trucks. "Mansfield bars" are required on all tractor-trailers to stop cars from sliding underneath the truck. But here’s the problem. Mansfield bars prevent under-ride in a medium impact rear-end collisions, such as occurred in Mansfield’s case. However, the bars aren't often strongenough to stop high-impact crashes. Nor are they required on the sides of trucks, so they don't stop cars from sliding under from the side either. Here's a photo from a case I handled where my client was lucky to survive a crash with an 18 wheeler that suddenly cut in front of her. Under-ride crashes are exactly as awful as the word implies. During a collision with a tractor-trailer, the car slides underneath the semi, either sheering off or crushing the top of the car. The occupants of the car don’t stand a chance. But what if these under-ride collisions could be close to totally avoided?

Congress should put public safety above trucking industry demands

Trucking companies want bigger trucks and unfortunately many national lawmakers agree with them. Trucking companies want to increase 18-wheeler weight limits from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds on interstate highways, an increase of 14 percent. After a similar bill was defeated in 2015, sponsors promised to reintroduce this bad idea again this year. Increasing truck weight limits flies against all reason. Tractor-trailer accident deaths jumped 26 percent between 2009 and 2015, a frightening trend that shows no sign of slowing down. In 2015, truck accident fatalities increased by eight percent from the previous year to 4,050 people. We should expect our lawmakers to strengthen safety regulations, not weaken them.
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