A jury in Southern Texas recently awarded the family of a trucking accident victim $281 million after he was struck and killed by a broken shaft from a tractor-trailer. The truck driver and his employer, Heckmann Water Resources, an oil patch supplier, were sued for the wrongful death. Our team of trucking accident attorneys highlights this story to bring the dangers of tractor-trailers to the forefront of roadway safety issues, particularly during the winter season.
The crash occurred in late May 2012 on a highway near San Antonio, when a piece of the Heckmann truck’s drive shaft broke off, flying through the victim’s windshield and killing him. The truck was being used for oilfield work at the Eagle Ford Shale. The victim’s family consequently brought a lawsuit against Heckmann for improperly maintaining the truck and wrongful death. The driver was also sued for negligence, however the jury only found Heckmann to be liable.
Eagle Ford operates more than 200 oil rigs and wells in Southern Texas, making it one of the largest oil and gas development in the world. This investment spans about 20 counties and is changing much of the landscape, both literally and economically, in the area. Although Eagle Ford is creating thousands of new jobs for residents of the region, the work itself can be dangerous, which is only compounded when adding in the factor of transportation.
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According to its website, Eagle Ford Oilfield contracts with seven transportation companies, though interestingly Heckmann is not listed as one of them. The company is planning on appealing the decision based on the unusually large award.
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The settlement is very large, however, we believe in full accordance with how trucking companies who fail to maintain their commercial vehicles should be held responsible. It is unfortunate but not surprising that trucking accidents have increased substantially in the 20-county Eagle Ford area since its establishment. The San Antonio Express News estimates that fatal crashes in the Eagle Ford region increased 40% in 2012, from just over 175 to nearly 250.
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The newspaper reports that the small rural roads in the area, which used to carry about 200 vehicles per day, are now withstanding 2,400 vehicles, including more commercial trucks. There have been a few attempts at safety campaigns in the area, posting on billboards and gas station pumps, in print and radio advertising.
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The state’s Department of Transportation affirms that the most dangerous time of day for wrecks is between four and six in the evening. Transportation companies have also increased efforts, implementing stability controls and ensuring drivers get enough rest time. Residents are still concnerend though, telling local news outlets they often see truckers blowing through stop lights and passing schools buses.
Overall, wrecks involving commercial trucks are the result of the vehicle’s characteristics, such as acceleration, braking, and visibility limitations, oversized loads, and other drivers’ inability to predict how a large truck functions. If a crash causes serious injury or death, the commercial truck driver and the company that owns the vehicle are legally liable for driver or mechanical negligence and consequent medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.
Establishing liability can be problematic only if the driver is a contracted employee, meaning there is no official employment relationship between the trucking company and driver. In this type of situation, plaintiffs would have to prove the trucking company was responsible for a reasonable amount of supervision in order to be successful. It is worth noting that, in most states, victims may not be able to recover damages if the accident was caused by their own carelessness.
Regardless of fault, it is always worth consulting with an attorney if you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in a commercial trucking accident. Our team of truck crash lawyers offers free legal consultations, so you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by giving us a call.