Texas Court Reviews Request for Death Benefits in Fatal Motor Vehicle Accident

Far too many car accidents on Texas roads involve drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or balance-1172800drugs. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2014, there were more than 6,700 crashes that involved a DUI. In Smith County alone, there were 219 accidents in which at least one driver was intoxicated. Driving under the influence is just one example of a driver’s negligence that can cause an accident and result in injuries to others. If you have been injured in a car accident due to the fault of another (whether it involved an intoxicated driver or not), you may be entitled to recover damages for your suffering and losses. Victims are encouraged to contact a local East Texas injury attorney who can assess the case and prepare a solid claim for compensation.

The type of claim you assert depends in large part on the circumstances surrounding your accident. In a recent Texas auto accident-related case, Donnie Lee Burris died in a motor vehicle crash while driving his employer’s truck on the way to a job site. The deceased’s employer had a worker’s compensation policy with Texas Mutual Insurance Company at the time of the crash. The plaintiff, Ashley Denham, brought a workers’ compensation claim to recover death benefits on behalf of the deceased’s minor daughter. After the accident, however, an autopsy as well as blood and urine tests were conducted, and the tests revealed the presence of THC – the active ingredient in marijuana.

Texas Mutual denied the claim, pointing out (among other things) that Burris was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The Appeals Panel of the Division of Worker’s Compensation ruled that, based on the urine and blood test results indicating the presence of THC, Burris was intoxicated at the time of the fatal accident, and therefore the insurance company was not held liable. Denham next sought judicial review of the decision. Texas Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that Burris was not intoxicated at the time of the accident. Denham responded with an affidavit from a doctor challenging the validity of the toxicological testing.

The trial court ruled in favor of Texas Mutual. Denham appealed, arguing that the court erred in granting the insurance company’s motion. Under Texas’ Worker’s Compensation law, an insurance carrier will not be responsible to pay compensation or benefits if an employee is intoxicated when an injury takes place. The court pointed out that the issue in this case is whether the “claimant” (Burris) was mentally or physically impaired at the time of the accident, due to the consumption of a controlled substance.

Here, since the toxicology report indicated that Burris had THC in his system, Denham had the burden to prove that Burris was actually not intoxicated at the time of the fatal crash. She failed to provide such evidence and instead presented an affidavit addressing only that the drug levels in the deceased’s body were not valid due to the “rapid redistribution from storage tissues.”

Because of the lack of evidence proving that Burris was not intoxicated at the time of the accident, the court affirmed the decision in Texas Mutual’s favor. The outcome in this case is a good example of the need to be fully aware of the legal requirements in any auto accident case. Knowledge of the procedural and substantive laws can affect one’s right to a recovery. Earl Drott is an injury attorney with more than 25 years of experience representing parties in auto accident cases in the East Texas area. For a free consultation, call (903) 531-9300.

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