Despite testimony that an oilfield carrier pushed truck drivers to work more than 100 hours per week and ignore federal hours-of-service regulations, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the family of an “overworked” truck driver killed in a rollover crash can’t file a wrongful death lawsuit against the carrier because they couldn’t prove the company “intended” for him to die in a crash.
Instead, the court ruled that the family of Fabian Escobedo, who worked for Mo-Vac Service Co. in its Dilly, Texas, terminal for 12 years, could only collect workers’ compensation in the crash that resulted in his death.
While Texas law allows spouses and children to recover exemplary damages under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, the attorney representing Escobedo’s family, Armando P. Duran, said the law doesn’t apply because Escobedo wasn’t married and didn’t have children, which he said “must be changed.”
However, Justice Eva Guzman wrote in her opinion that the Texas legislature should align the Workers’ Compensation Act with Texas’ wrongful death statute to allow parents to sue.
On May 30, 2012, Escobedo was driving a 2007 Mack truck, pulling a 1985 Reynolds tank trailer for Mo-Vac, when he veered off the road, rolled and died of positional asphyxiation.
Urbano Garza, Mo-Vac manager from 2008 to 2012, testified that he was told by management to instruct his 30-plus truck drivers, including Escobedo, to drive past their legal driving limits to “make money” for the company.
“From what I observed, Mr. Escobedo’s death was caused by greed,” Garza said in his testimony.
Garza also stated that the truck drivers for Mo-Vac were ordered to work at least 100 hours per week and sometimes worked 19-24 hours straight for the oilfield carrier.
However, only a surviving spouse or heir is allowed to file for exemplary damages under Texas law. In a civil trial, exemplary damages are awarded as a way to punish a company for gross negligence or severe misconduct, according to Texas law.
“A hardworking Texan died alone on the side of a highway in a foreseeable accident that likely would not have occurred but for his employer’s intentional disregard of laws enacted to protect workers and the public,” Guzman said. “Though precedent compels me to concur in the court’s conclusion that the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act provide the exclusive remedy for the Escobedo family’s heart-wrenching loss, I write separately to urge the Legislature to align the Act with Texas’s wrongful-death statute by extending the Act’s exemplary damages exception to parents who have lost a child, like the Escobedo family.”