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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

How to Avoid Being in a Texas Truck Accident

Because of their size and weight, a Texas truck accident is usually far more serious than the average car crash.  There were about 5,100 fatality collisions involving trucks in the United States in 2018, according to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That is because commercial truck crashes are much more dangerous than those involving smaller vehicles.  Here is a photo from a case we handled recently to give you an idea of the massive damage a jack-knifed 18-wheeler can cause on our North Texas roads.

Texas Truck Accident Causes

Trucks are much larger, heavier, slower, and more difficult to maneuver than cars, but many truck and vehicle drivers seem to forget this. These are some of the common causes of a Texas truck accident that we have seen over the last 40 years:  

Blind Spots

This is probably the biggest factor when it comes to truck accidents. Because of their length, trucks have much larger blind spots than smaller vehicles in these four areas:
  • directly in front of the tractor trailer,
  • directly behind it, and
  • on both sides next to its side mirrors, especially on the right.
Remember that if a smaller vehicle gets within 100 feet of the back of an 18-wheeler, it will usually be invisible to its driver. 

Speed and Stopping Distance

Many tractor-trailers have a gross weight vehicle rating exceeding 80,000 pounds. Traveling at typical interstate speed of 65 miles per hour, a three-axle truck-tractor with a two-axle semitrailer travels over 95 feet per second (or the distance of three first downs on a football field) and can take up a whopping 900 feet to come to a stop.

Driver Issues

Truckers have to cover long distances with their cargo, and often try to travel as quickly as possible for the sake of efficiency. This means 18-wheeler drivers often take to the road in a rushed and even sleep-deprived state, significantly increasing their risk of causing a collision. Substance use is also a problem. Alcohol and prescription medication often have a role to play in a Texas truck accident. Of course, this is not limited just to those behind the wheel of a truck. The CDC reports that alcohol was involved in 28% of all deaths that occurred on American roads in 2016.

Poor or Unsuitable Roads

Tractor-trailers perform best on wide, straight, well-maintained, and dry roads. But when they have to navigate routes with tight turns or roads with potholes or other types of damage, crashes become more likely. These kinds of roads are common in more remote areas. Wildlife Sometimes truck wrecks happen because an animal comes onto the road unexpectedly. This is a particularly pressing issue in rural areas, especially during deer season that starts this weekend. Drivers of large vehicles should be especially conscious of the possibility of animals getting in their way.

Avoiding Texas Truck Accident: Truckers

As a truck driver, there are a few steps you can take to keep yourself and other road users safe. These include the following:
  • Get the proper amount of rest. In Texas, commercial drivers can only legally be on duty for 15 consecutive hours, and can only drive for 12 of these. Drivers must also take 8 consecutive hours off after reaching one of these limits. However, if you feel tired despite having time left before breaching a limit, you should still rest.
  • Make your vehicle visible when you pull over by using flashers or cones, especially in darkness.
  • Make sure your vehicle is running properly by taking it for regular checks and having any issues fixed promptly. Many a Texas truck accident has been caused by avoidable mechanical faults, especially in all the one-truck, owner-operator businesses on the road.
  • Carry different kinds of weather-related equipment in your vehicle at all times. You never know how conditions will change, especially if you are traveling long distances.
Remember, your obligations to other road users are more serious when you drive a large vehicle. The consequences of a simple mistake can be severe.

Avoiding Truck Accidents: Other Drivers 

While truck drivers bear the responsibility for managing their larger and more dangerous vehicles, there are things other road users can do to help them. Small/moderate sized car drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians are most at risk of serious injury from truck collisions. Even if you drive a pickup truck or SUV, it’s a good idea to know how to protect yourself.

Watch Out For Blind Spots

Never cut off a tractor-trailer. Be conscious of the large blind spot trucks have when you’re driving behind or beside one. Be extremely cautious passing them, use your turn signal, flash your headlights, then speed up to get out the way. Stay well behind large commercial vehicles, especially when roads are wet or congested with stop-and-go traffic, as it will take longer to brake fully. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see the truck driver in their mirror, they should be able to see you. If you can’t see them, you should try to reposition yourself on the road.

Don’t Overtake a Truck Going Downhill

Trucks take longer to stop than other vehicles due to their weight. They take even longer than usual when going down a slope. Therefore, you should try to avoid passing out trucks and buses while traveling downhill.

Keep a sufficient amount of room ahead of the 18-wheeler

If he or she is tail-gating you, you should move over and let them pass. You don't want to run the risk of being rear-ended by an aggressive driver.

Be Responsible for Yourself

Don’t assume truck drivers will drive perfectly or obey every rule of the road. As they say, accidents happen, and truck accidents have a far greater impact on car users than trucker. In 2017, 72% of those killed in truck accidents were driving the smaller vehicles. With this in mind, be extra-cautious when sharing the road with a truck. Make sure you always have room to protect yourself in the event of an unexpected movement from a large vehicle. This applies doubly to cyclists. To be entirely safe, you should dismount if you encounter a truck on a challenging stretch of road. Even without touching you or your bike, a truck can cause you to lose control or fall if it gets too close at speed.

What to Do When Something Goes Wrong

Avoiding crashes must be a priority of every person on the road. Whether you’re a big rig operator, a driver of a passenger truck or car, and especially a motorcyclist or pedestrian, there are steps you can take to keep your risk as low as possible. Unfortunately, avoiding truck accidents is not always possible. If you have been involved in a truck crash, whether as a truck driver or the operator of another vehicle, you could be facing significant medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses if you don’t obtain a favorable settlement or jury verdict. For more on this topic: How much money can you receive from commercial insurance after crash? When seeking legal advice in the aftermath of a Fort Worth area truck accident, it is a good idea to hire a good Fort Worth personal injury lawyer.  At Berenson Injury Law, we’ve been helping people injured in a Texas truck accident since 1980. If you have been injured or lost a family member in any type of vehicle collision, contact us for a free consultation. Related post: What you should do after a tractor-trailer crash

Dallas 18-wheeler crash this morning claims lives of three

The number of people getting seriously injured and even killed in Texas due to crashes involving 18-wheelers unfortunately continues to rise. Just this morning, the most recent tragedy happened in Dallas at about 2:00 AM when three people in a car lost their lives on Interstate 30. It is not clear at this time how the crash happened and we often see driving while intoxicated crashes at that time. But sadly, this is just another news story and statistic about Texas truck injuries and fatalities. And there is no end in sight. The photograph is not from the Dallas crash but from a case we recently resolved at a mediation. We filed suit after this tractor-trailer rear-ended several vehicles on an interstate in Fort Worth. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that a shocking 4,317 people died -- 556 of those being Texans -- and 30,000 people were injured in large truck crashes. Of course, almost all of the victims were the occupants of other vehicles. The 80,000 gross vehicle weight rated tractor-trailer almost always wins the battle with the smaller car or pickup truck. And care to guess which state had the highest number of large trucks that were in fatal wrecks? Woo hoo, we're #1, with 539 commercial vehicles involved in these crashes. That's way too many. After all, one is too many, especially if it has affected your or someone you love. The flurry of truck wrecks is despite the constant improvement and increase in technology, testing, training, and regulations --and no doubt lawsuits against commercial truck companies and their negligent drivers --  that have improved the safety of the our highways.
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