John Reyna Dead, Sheldon Greenwood Injured in Tivoli, TX, Accident
Tivoli, TX -- December 21, 2016, John Reyna was killed, Sheldon Greenwood injured, following an accident where their vehicles crashed with an 18-wheeler.
Refugio County authorities were called to the accident scene about three miles outside of Tivoli. At the time, around 7:15 p.m., 70-year-old Reyna was driving eastbound on TX-239 in a GMC Canyon.
Ahead of him, Rickey Bishop was driving an 18-wheeler westbound. Reports indicate that he attempted a U-turn on the highway. Reyna was left with no time to react, and he crashed into the side of the trailer. Shortly after this collision, a second vehicle, driven by 29-year-old Greenwood, also crashed into the 18-wheeler.
Reyna's vehicle was lodged beneath the trailer of the 18-wheeler. His injuries were fatal, and he died at the scene. Rescue teams extracted Greenwood from the scene and transported him to CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital with serious injuries. Bishop was not hurt.
Authorities did not issue any charges or citations following the accident. Their investigations are ongoing.
Map of the Area
Looking at the details surrounding this accident, one would be very hard-pressed to say this truck driver wasn't at fault for the accident. TX-239 is a very narrow stretch of highway, most of which has a posted speed limit of 75 MPH. Reports indicate that the truck driver attempted to make a U-turn, but that's not exactly a simple maneuver on such a narrow roadway. Reports also indicated that the truck driver was turning into a business or a driveway, so it's possible the driver attempted to pull in, back out, and turn around. This can be an unsafe maneuver and it is illegal for a truck driver to attempt this without a flagger or some other kind of assistance.
The exact charge would be obstruction of a highway. We recognize that on highways vehicles travel at high rates of speed. For this reason you can't just randomly stop or block the roadway, because high rates of speed mean longer braking time and greatly increased risks of crashes, injuries, and deaths.
When it comes to negligence, someone who is held liable for an accident has to violate some sort of duty. This violation of duty tends to revolve around the idea that an accident is foreseeable. Truck drivers must have special training and licenses to operate their vehicles. They know the rules and regulations surrounding their vehicles, and they know the consequences that can occur if they violate these regulations. This truck driver should have known that blocking traffic lanes on a highway at night could cause a terrible accident--which is exactly what happened.
Our firm handled a very similar case a while back out in west Texas. Just like this accident, an 18-wheeler pulled out onto a highway while making a turn, blocking the path of oncoming motorists. The man driving one of the oncoming cars didn't have enough time to stop and crashed into the 18-wheeler. The truck driver's excuse was that he thought he had enough time to make the turn. Mistakes can happen, but when your job revolves around hauling up to 80,000 pounds of mass around the highway, you better have a grasp on how long it takes you to make a turn. Even if it takes half an hour of waiting for cars to pass, a truck driver has to wait until they know without a doubt that they have enough time to make the turn. Neglecting to take this precaution is a blatant violation of a truck driver's duty to other motorists on the roadways.
Another excuse I've often seen from truck drivers in accidents like these is that the driver who hit them must not have been paying attention or they were speeding. This is a common tactic used to either avoid fault or minimize damages by placing a portion of the blame on the victim. This can easily be discounted with the right evidence. Under ideal circumstances, for a driver in an average vehicle traveling 75 MPH to identify a danger in the road, react, and brake, it takes roughly 430 feet for them to come to a stop. Factor into the equation that this accident occurred at night, on a narrow road, and the 18-wheeler's maneuvers might have obscured its headlights or taillights, leaving the reflective tape as the sole means of identifying that there was an object in the road. It'd be very difficult for the typical driver to effectively come to a stop while traveling at highway speeds in order to avoid this accident.
In fact, forensic studies have shown that reflective tape only reliably alerts drivers of an object in the roadway at distances of less than 400 feet. If the vehicles in this accident were doing the speed limit, or even slightly under it, they were doomed to collide with the truck before they could even see it.
Of course, from a legal perspective, these discussions are academic. In Texas, the liability for drivers who block roadways isn't usually a matter of general negligence, but instead is pursued under a different mechanism, known as negligence per se. Unlike a normal negligence case, in cases where plaintiffs are permitted to argue negligence per se, they only have to prove 3 elements to hold the defendant liable. They are:
- The defendant broke a law.
- The plaintiff was part of the class of people the law was enacted to protect.
- The broken law was the cause of the accident.
Prove these elements and you can hold the truck driver accountable. While it's always possible that news accounts have the facts of this case completely wrong, based upon what they've been reporting this is exactly the type of case where negligence per se comes into play. These cases make is easier for the plaintiff to prove liability, because they remove foreseeability defenses.
In many cases, a driver could argue that there was no way to know that a car would be coming along at such a high rate of speed. While this may seem like an absurd argument for an accident that took place on a highway, we've seen drivers and their attorneys make it. Negligence per se does away with all of that. That doesn't mean to say that any truck accident case is ever an open and shut affair, trucking company insurers make sure that is never the case. What it does mean is that victims have another potential legal tool with which to hold a negligent driver accountable for their losses.