A recent personal injury case in Texas ended with a $9.5 million verdict for two families who were injured after an exhausted truck driver slammed into their cars. The tractor-trailer accident happened last year in Victoria, TX and left Calvin Stovall and the Olachia family seriously injured.
According to court reports, the accident happened when Johnny Raymond Rodriguez crashed into the Stovall and the Olachias while speeding in his dump truck full of gravel. Rodriguez was thought to be traveling at over 70 miles per hour when he rear-ended Stovall, leading to severe back and head injuries that have required multiple surgeries to repair.
Beyond speeding, Rodriguez was also found to have consumed alcohol the night of the crash. A Breathalyzer test conducted three hours after the accident found his BAC to be 0.071, slightly under the state’s 0.08 percent legal limit. However, in Texas commercial truck drivers can be cited and lose their licenses if they are found to be operating a vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.04 percent.
Stovall and the Olachias filed suit against Rodriguez and the company that owned his truck, AW Trucking, saying that the company never should have hired Rodriguez in the first place. The plaintiffs ended up uncovering Rodriguez’s five previous convictions for DWI, something AW Trucking should have taken into account before choosing the man to operate a potentially deadly machine.
AW Trucking was also under fire in the personal injury case because records later revealed that in the eight days prior to the crash that Rodriguez had worked 97.5 hours. To ordinary people this may simply sound like a long week, but to those familiar with the regulations imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; this amounts to an illegal act. Federal rules are clear that commercial truck drivers are limited to working 70 hours in an eight day period, meaning AW Trucking violated the law when it allowed Rodriguez to continue operating his truck.
It was revealed that in most cases the FMCSA requires trucking companies and drivers to maintain detailed log books accounting for all the time the driver works during a given day. However, one dangerous caveat exists which says that companies are not required to maintain log books if drivers operate within a 100-mile zone. This exception may have been partially responsible for the terrible injuries suffered by the two families in the case and has sparked outcry in Texas and elsewhere about why the Department of Public Safety has not done more to police the actions of overworked commercial truck drivers.
Given the size, weight and speed of these commercial trucks it is critical that all safety precautions are followed by drivers and the companies that own the trucks. Without these rules other families may face the same agony that the Stovall did following his terrible accident. Thankfully a Texas jury recognized the damage done to the families and awarded Stovall $5.4 million and an additional $4.1 million to the Olachias. The hope is that such large payouts send a strong message to trucking companies across the country.