Recently, four people died and over a dozen were hurt in a Texas college bus crash. The accident happened when a tractor-trailer crossed a median in Oklahoma and crashed into the bus, which was transporting a women’s college softball team.
The team was going home after a scrimmage in Oklahoma. Three of the women died at the scene, and a fourth died at a hospital. The sides of the bus were heavily damaged. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the site, and both the bus driver and the tractor-trailer driver had to take toxicology tests.
A major accident like this can be devastating both physically and financially. When multiple people are harmed, it can be difficult to sort out who should pay and how much should be paid. In general, the party at fault must pay. If the tractor-trailer driver in the situation described above was 100% at fault, its insurer will have to sort out multiple claims against the same policy. It may be possible to reach a global settlement. However, a knowledgeable personal injury attorney will also look into other sources of recovery because a single insurance policy does not always cover all of the injuries, physical and emotional, that arise out of an accident involving multiple fatalities.
Another possible avenue of recovery is the driver’s employer. A trucking company is likely to have substantial insurance coverage. As the employer, it can be held liable under a theory of vicarious liability or respondeat superior. In Texas, an employer is vicariously liable for its employees’ torts committed within the course and scope of employment.
The court will look at whether the truck driver was acting with the authority of the employer, to further the employer’s business, or for the benefit of the employer. In fact, in Texas, an employer can even be liable for an employee’s acts that are contrary to an express policy if it is done with the employer’s general authority.
If a truck company knows that the driver has had multiple accidents involving violations of the federal trucking laws or that the driver is falsifying his log book and failing to take sufficient rest breaks, it may be liable under a theory of negligent hiring or supervision. While vicarious liability does not require any affirmative negligent action by an employer, negligent hiring or supervision is based on the employer’s negligence.
What if both the bus driver and the tractor-trailer driver were found to be negligent? In that case, it would be appropriate for injury victims to file suit against both drivers and both employers on these grounds. The jury would be responsible for apportioning fault between all the parties. Under the modified version of the joint and several liability doctrine that Texas follows, each defendant would be liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damages regardless of their relative degrees of fault, as long as the plaintiff was 50% or less at fault.
Unless they grab the wheel or act in some other inappropriate way, passengers in vehicle accidents are not typically found to be responsible for accidents. Although a plaintiff can choose to sue only one party and recover the full amount of damages under the joint and several liability doctrine, as a practical matter, particularly in a case involving multiple claimants, it is prudent to sue all potentially responsible parties to improve the chances of recovery.
If you or a loved one is hurt in a tractor-trailer or bus crash, you may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. The experienced San Antonio auto accident attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.