The family of a truck driver killed in a 2012 crash can resume a survival claim against his employer after a Texas appellate court overturned the lower court’s ruling dismissing the case.
The parents and sister of Fabian Escobedo argued that he was forced by the company to drive an excessive amount of hours, resulting in fatigue and consequently the fatal crash. A status hearing on the case is scheduled for Monday. Aug. 13.
On July 27, the Court of Appeals in the 13th District of Texas affirmed four of five issues that the district court considered when awarding Edinburg, Texas-based oil field service company Mo-Vac summary judgment. The appellate court’s ruling will allow the trucker’s family to have their day in court.
On May 30, 2012, Fabian Escobedo was driving one of Mo-Vac’s 2007 Mack trucks pulling a 1985 Reynolds tank trailer. According to Escobedo’s family in court documents, Fabian was “extremely tired and exhausted.” As a result, he either fell asleep or lost control of his ability to control the truck. The vehicle suddenly veered off the road and struck a pole. In an attempt to correct course, the truck rolled over. Fabian sustained trauma to his torso and died due to positional asphyxiation.
Escobedo’s family filed a lawsuit against Mo-Vac for wrongful death. Mo-Vac argued that there was no evidence of intentional acts and no evidence of conscious pain and suffering. The company filed a motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing the family’s claims without trial. The district court sided with Mo-Vac.
Among the findings overturned by the appeals court was a ruling by the lower court that Escobedo’s family failed evidence of whether the company’s intentional actions caused the crash. The appellate court’s ruling highlights an affidavit provided by one of Mo-Vac’s terminal managers, Urbano Garza. Garza’s sworn testimony paints a picture of how the oil boom in Texas led to a situation where the company “could not keep up with demand for drivers,” forcing dispatchers and managers like himself and drivers like Escobado to practice overworking and falsifying logs.
“Management of the company forced upon me and the dispatchers, a clear directive to have the drivers work unsafe hours rather than let a competitor get the jobs, which were demanded by our customers,” Garza stated in the affidavit.
According to Garza’s statement in the court records, Mo-Vac committed the following acts:
- Drivers required to work unsafe amounts of overtime;
- Intentionally violated hours-of-service regulations;
- Required drivers to work illegal amounts of time;
- Required drivers to falsify logs;
- Drivers working at least 100 hours per week and 19-24 hours straight per day; and
- Supervisors told drivers “Don’t get killed out there.”
Garza said “it would be simply impossible” for the company to not know that it would cause an injury or death.
Another factor in the trial court’s decision to award Mo-Vac summary judgment was whether or not the deceased’s family produced evidence showing Fabian Escobedo had “conscious pain and suffering” after the crash but before his death. In Texas, damages can be recovered only for pain that is consciously suffered and experienced by the deceased.
The Escobedos referred to a medical report of Fabian’s death. A study looking into positional asphyxiation in crashes showed “none of the occupants had injury severe enough to result in death at the scene if they had not first died of asphyxia.” The medical examiner found no indications of blunt force trauma to Escobedo’s head and did not attribute his death to trauma to the torso. Evidence suggested he died from suffocation.
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