On, May 20th, 2019,  a pile-up crash involving a water delivery truck and passenger car resulted in the death of a 79-year-old woman. The wreck happened on the Northwest Freeway service road near the Gessner Road intersection.

According to police and witnesses, a ReadyRefresh water delivery driver ran a red light and t-boned a pickup truck in the intersection. A third vehicle then slammed into the wreckage. Emergency crews had to tow the delivery truck away from the wreckage before they could reach the victims inside the passenger truck. They rushed both the driver an the passenger to a local hospital. The driver survived, but the passenger did not. Their names were not released.

In a statement, ReadyRefresh’s parent company insisted that “At Nestlé Waters North America, safety is one of our top priorities, and we are investigating the matter further to understand what happened. We are cooperating fully with law enforcement.”

Legal Responsibility in Truck Crash Cases

Delivery drivers, Uber divers, “Mom’s Taxi” drivers, and other commercial operators are all common carriers in Texas. It does not matter if they have commercial drivers’ license or not. Noncommercial drivers usually have a duty of reasonable care. But common carriers have a duty of highest care. For example, if a heavy rain begins falling, noncommercial operators can stay on the road. But common carriers arguably may have a duty to pull over and wait for the rain to at least slacken before they keep driving.

This higher responsibility also includes the passengers or cargo on board. In fact, common carriers are virtually insurers of safe conduct. Because of this higher duty, shipping and transportation companies should probably place monitors on board along with drivers. But these cost-conscious companies rarely do that, so the entire burden falls on the driver.

Because of the higher duty, liability is easier to establish in court. The higher duty also raises the possibility of punitive damages. That’s especially the case with regard to behavioral negligence, like fatigue and intoxication. These drivers know they should not get behind the wheel, yet they do so anyway and knowingly put other people at risk.

First Party Liability in Truck Crash Cases

Most vehicle collisions are not unavoidable accidents. Uncontrollable acts, like lightning strikes, only cause a handful of car crashes in Harris County. Most of them have to do with one of the following:

  • Negligence: Drivers do not use ordinary care when they fail to follow the rules of the road. Cell phone usage while driving is a good example. Careful drivers should not surf the web or watch YouTube clips while they drive. That’s especially true of common carriers, because of the higher duty of care.
  • Negligence Per Se: Sometimes, the law establishes the standard of care. If tortfeasors (negligent drivers) violate safety laws, like speeding or making an illegal turn, and that violation substantially causes injury, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law.
  • Defective Product: Shipping and transportation companies are not the only entities that cut corners to save money. Product manufacturers do the same thing. Tire tread separation is a good example. In a defective product case, the victim/plaintiff usually only needs to prove causation. Negligence, or lack thereof, is usually irrelevant.

Damages in truck crash cases usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. As mentioned, additional punitive damages may be available as well. The victim/plaintiff must present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally disregarded a known risk.

Third Party Liability

Many commercial vehicle crashes involve catastrophic injuries, including wrongful death. Unfortunately, Texas has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. So, the tortfeasor may not have sufficient insurance coverage to provide fair compensation.

Fortunately, Texas courts recognize a number of third party liability theories. Vicarious liability gives these victims an additional source of recovery.

Respondeat superior employer liability is probably one of the most common vicarious liability theories in Harris County. There are basically two elements:

  • Employee: Anyone whom the employer controls in terms of things like work hours is an “employee” in this context. That label includes not only full-time employees but also part-time employees, independent contractors, owner-operators, and unpaid volunteers.
  • Scope of Employment: Similarly, any act that benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That could be driving an empty delivery truck back to the garage.

Other employer liability theories include negligent hiring and negligent supervision. These doctrines usually apply in assault and other intentional tort claims.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

Because of their higher duty of care, it is easier to establish commercial driver liability in court. That usually means larger and faster injury settlements. For a free consultation with an experienced truck accident lawyer in Houston, contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C. You have a limited amount of time to act.

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Christopher Fletcher

Christopher K. Fletcher has been practicing law since 2009. He attended Baylor University School of Law and graduated with a special concentration in Civil Litigation. Since then, he has dedicated his career to representing personal injury victims. Chris was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers in 2017, 2018 and 2019.