If a highway motorist loses control of their vehicle and rams into an 18-wheeler, causing catastrophic injuries, can the trucking company be held liable?
That question took this interstate shipping case on a long haul of one unforeseen impact after another.
In 2014, while traveling westbound on a Texas highway in freezing rain that had effectively turned the interstate into a solid sheet of ice, Trey Salinas lost control of his vehicle, crossed a median, and plowed into, or under, a truck owned by shipping giant Werner Enterprises.
Trey’s passengers, the Blake family, were absolutely devastated in the wreck.
7-year-old Zack was killed, and his 12-year-old sister Brianna “Destiny” was rendered quadriplegic for the rest of her life due to brain injuries. Their older brother Nathan and mother Jennifer, the main plaintiff in the case, also suffered severe and lasting brain injuries.
In the resulting lawsuit, the ailing and grieving Blake family claimed negligence on the part of Werner, concerning the overall procedures and practices they followed, or didn’t follow, concerning the weather and road conditions on that fateful day.
Werner argued that their driver didn’t directly cause the accident, and indeed didn’t take any wrong actions.
So neither he nor his employer company couldn’t be held liable.
So… how would you rule?
Trey’s vehicle hit the truck, not the other way around. A tragic case of wrong place, wrong time, but surely the culpability wouldn’t fall on the driver who got hit, let alone the freight carrier that hired him, right?
The 127th District Court, which was affirmed by Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals, uncovered what they deemed failed or breached safety protocols, inadequate training, and an under-qualified driver; and thus surmised that the accident was avoidable from Werner’s end. They were therefore found liable for the Blake family’s horrific injuries.
And the pay-out from Werner is likely to reach NINE FIGURES.
But the impact of this case hits much deeper than it may appear.
This is part of a wave of legislation and legal precedents sweeping the nation concerning freight carrier liability. Certain Federal laws that had protected the carriers for decades are being eroded in favor of putting large shipping companies on the hook for road accident injuries.
So, if you’re in shipping, what does this mean for you?
If your people are involved in any sort of accident, even when it seems they were clearly not at fault, it’s ever more likely that a plaintiff’s attorney could go through your entire business model with a fine-tooth comb, looking for any blameworthy factor to be found.
Hiring and training protocols, safety rules, procedural manuals, supervisory methods, and inter-employee communications may all be fair game for scrutiny.
Are you really prepared to have all of these facets examined, with this emerging legal framework that may well favor you being found responsible?
We, at Jonathan Scott and Commerce Law Partners, are here to help get you prepared for this legal storm that may be coming your way.
The Good News? There is push-back against this trend in several jurisdictions that seek to limit the scope and magnitude of the judgments involving commercial motor vehicles.
The Bad News? This push-back seems to have emerged by necessity, after numerous verdicts were pronounced against freight carriers, to the tune of $10 Million plus! (And they’re still coming down the pike as we speak.)
These, my friends, are what we call NUCLEAR VERDICTS. They’re exorbitant, they’re merciless, and they’re happening so often that there’s actually a term for them!
What happens when you find yourself and your business in the fallout zone of possible culpability after an accident, where you may or may not have been directly at fault?
We believe it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Fortunately, there are legal strategies you can implement today to battle-harden your business and safeguard you against a fate like Werner’s.
To find out more, contact us at Jonathan Scott and Commerce Law Partners – Prepare to Win!
The trucking industry business model as we know it is under attack.
As experts in the industry, we can help from a business, legal and safety perspective.
To maintain a smooth operation, and prevent your transport enterprise from being upended in this litigious, regulatory, anything-can-happen landscape, let us take the guesswork out of your next move!