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 lawsuitMr. 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 AppealsThe 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 CourtThe 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.