In a recent Texas wrongful death case, a car that drove into oil-based mud cuttings slid from the roadway and rolled over. A passenger was ejected and killed. An oil company had loaded mud into a dump trailer operated by an independent trucking company. Neither the trucking company nor the oil company had made sure the truckload of mud was adequately attached before the truck left the drill site.
The decedent’s parents, the next friend of her minor daughter, and the estate administrator sued the oil company and others for negligence. The oil company moved for summary judgment. It argued it didn’t have a duty to the decedent by law because the trucking company owed a non-delegable duty to secure the load, and its internal policies didn’t generate a duty to secure an independent contractor’s load. It also argued it wasn’t foreseeable that the trucking company would act negligently. The trial court granted the motion.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that it was an error for the lower court to grant summary judgment based on the argument the oil company didn’t have a duty to secure the mud load. The oil company needed to present evidence to show it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The appellate court explained the parties hadn’t relied on conflicting evidence. An oil company operated a drilling rig and hired another oil company to control solids. The solids control operator provided evidence that he owed a duty to load trailers transporting mud from the drill site and that he hadn’t relied on the driver of the trailer for how to load the trailer.
On the night of the accident, the solids control operator used a backhoe to load mud onto the trailer for two hours. Some of the material was slimy, and the operator believed that if mud got on the highway, it would endanger those driving. He testified the driver didn’t step out of the trailer and walk around to verify the load was secured, as he should have done. After the driver signed paperwork, he left. He testified he didn’t expect the operator to latch the trailer, and it just slipped his mind to make sure the load was secured.
The oil company argued that the carrier owed a non-delegable duty to secure cargo based on federal regulations. The appellate court found this didn’t negate as a matter of law the oil company’s duty to use reasonable care. It explained common law rules governed the rights and liabilities of carriers and shippers. The defendant argued that it didn’t have a duty to the traveling public to make sure an independent contractor secured its load and that it was not foreseeable a driver would fail to use reasonable care to secure the load.
The appellate court explained that Texas law didn’t impose a duty to take action to stop harm to others without special relationships or circumstances. Accordingly, a bystander that didn’t generate a dangerous situation wasn’t required to become a good Samaritan to stop others from being injured.
It found, however, that under the Restatement (Second) of Torts, somebody that undertakes to render services to someone else that it should recognize are necessary to protect a third party or his property can be liable to the third party for physical injuries. In this case, the defendant wasn’t a bystander and had undertaken a duty to load mud. He needed to use reasonable care to stop an unreasonable risk of harm.
The company had put mud on a trailer, knowing it would be on Texas’ highways and knowing it could endanger other drivers if it wasn’t adequately secured. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the portion of the judgment that granted summary judgment on the negligence claim.
If a loved one dies as a result of negligence, the San Antonio wrongful death attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.