On December 7, 2013, a jury in South Texas found that Heckmann Water Resources Inc., an oil patch supplier near San Antonio, Texas, negligently failed to maintain a tractor-trailer truck that caused the death of Carlos Aguilar. The lawsuit stems from a May 2012 accident in which Aguilar, a U.S. Army veteran, husband, and father of seven, was doing work at the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield when a drive shaft broke off from under a Heckmann tractor-trailer traveling at 67 mph. The 20-pound part crashed through the windshield of the pickup truck that Aguilar was riding in, killing him.
Aguilar’s family filed suit against Heckmann and one if its employees, alleging that Heckmann failed to properly maintain the tractor-trailer. The jury ultimately found the company negligent and awarded Aguilar’s family (his parents, wife, and seven children) $281 million, which included $181 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages against Heckmann. The jury did not find Heckmann’s employee negligent. Heckmann’s Scottsdale, Arizona-based parent company, Nuverra Environmental Solutions, plans to appeal the decision. The verdict is one of the largest verdicts in Texas history.
Texas is by far the largest producer of crude oil and natural gas in the United States. In addition, the Eagle Shale Ford area continues to grow. There are currently 265 oil rigs operating in Eagle Ford Shale, compared to only 158 operating rigs in 2010. This means more oilfield workers and likely more accidents both at the oilfield rig and in and around the area involving trucks transporting supplies. In fact, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, the largest recent jumps in fatal traffic accidents are those involving commercial vehicles.