Texas Appeals Court Holds that Oil Company Owed Duty to Secure “Oil-Based Mud Cuttings,” Even Though Independent Contractor Hauled Load

East Texas truck accidents can be very difficult. Truckers and trucking companies fight liability as fiercely as possible in most cases.

Sometimes, there may be others who could potentially be liable in a truck accident case – for example, a party who failed to properly secure a load that later spilled and caused an accident – but these defendants, too, pull out every possible defense to avoid liability. Fortunately, these tactics are not always successful.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently reviewed by the Texas Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs were the parents, daughter (through a next friend), and administratrix of the estate of a woman who died in a motor vehicle accident that occurred when the vehicle in which she was riding allegedly encountered some “oil-based mud cuttings,” slid off the roadway, and rolled over. According to the plaintiff’s negligence complaint, the defendant company had loaded the mud into an open-top dump trailer (operated by an independent trucking company) without ensuring that the load was secured before the truck left the drill site.

The defendant sought summary judgment on the ground that it had no duty to the deceased woman as a matter of law. As grounds, the defendant averred that the trucking company had a non-delegable duty to secure the load under state and federal regulations, and it was not foreseeable that the trucking company would act negligently. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.

Decision of the Appeals Court

The court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. Phrasing the issue as whether the defendant successfully negated the existence of a duty as a matter of law, the court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling in the defendant’s favor. Although the defendant argued that there were federal regulations to the effect that it was a carrier’s duty to secure a load prior to transporting it on a public highway, the appellate court found that these authorities did not negate, as a matter of law, the defendant’s duty to the deceased woman.

Likewise, the court found nothing in the “familiar duty principles” of Texas negligence law to negate the defendant’s duty to exercise reasonable care in loading and securing the mud in question. Specifically, the court noted that a duty arises whenever one person’s conduct poses a foreseeable risk to another person that could be avoided in the exercise of ordinary care. The court then observed that the defendant’s employee admitted that, if mud leaked onto a highway, it would pose a risk to people (such as the decedent) traveling along that highway. Having undertaken the duty to load the mud, the defendant was required to use reasonable care in so doing.

Talk to an East Texas Truck Accident Attorney

Earl Drott Law is here to help if your family is suffering because of a wreck caused by a negligent trucker or trucking outfit. Call us at 903-531-9300 to schedule a free consultation concerning your Tyler, Smith County, or other east Texas truck accident.

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