• January 10, 2017

Alex Ortega Killed in Midland, TX, 18-wheeler Accident

Midland, TX -- January 9, 2017, Alex Ortega was killed as the result of an accident where his vehicle collided with a disabled 18-wheeler.

The Texas Department of Public Safety investigated the fatal incident which occurred just before 6:00 a.m. near the intersection of North County Road 1160 and Business 20.

According to their reports, an 18-wheeler was traveling northbound on CR 1160 when it experienced a mechanical issue and broke down. The 18-wheeler came to a stop in eastbound lanes of Business 20, blocking the roadway.

31-year-old Ortega was traveling eastbound on the highway in a Ford F-250. He could not avoid the disabled 18-wheeler in time, and his vehicle crashed into the side of the truck.

Ortega was fatally injured in the crash, and he died at the scene. Authorities confirm he was wearing a seatbelt.

State Troopers have not indicated any charges or citations relating to this incident. They say the crash remains under investigation.

Map of the Area

Commentary

It's not unusual to see 18-wheelers broken down on the side and sometimes in the middle of traffic lanes. In the worst cases it can lead to accidents just like this one. It raises a very important question when looking at liability for an accident: should someone be held liable for an accident resulting from a mechanical breakdown? The short answer is: possibly. Machines break down, plain and simple. However, there are breakdowns which are unpredictable, and there are breakdowns which are preventable. It depends on the context of the issue and how foreseeable the incident was whether or not someone should be held accountable for an accident.

For example, a former co-worker had a very close call where her car experienced a mechanical malfunction that made her vehicle think it was in park even though she was driving on the highway. As a result, the vehicle basically locked up on her, leaving her helpless in the middle of the highway. It's a miracle she wasn't hit by another driver, but for the sake of example, let's say she was, and the other driver was hurt. Should she be held liable?

In her case, there was no warning or pre-existing issue with the vehicle that could have been foreseen. Damages resulting in that scenario could hardly be considered her fault since the issue was unpredictable. However, let's say the car head been making troublesome noises or was showing check engine warnings, and she never took the car to get checked out. It could be reasoned that by neglecting warning signs and not getting the issue fixed, she would be responsible for the breakdown causing an accident to occur. Like I said, it all comes down to whether or not the problem was foreseeable, and if the driver had plenty of time to fix the problem.

Whether or not the truck driver would be held liable for this particular accident raises the same issue. It's entirely possible that the semi just had a sudden breakdown. Machines are complicated things, and they break all the time. It's unfortunate, but it happens. That being said, our firm has seen dozens of truck accidents like this one where the breakdown related to poorly maintained trucks. Sometimes trucking companies neglect to fix vehicles in an effort to save money, causing them to breakdown later on. Trucking companies have a duty under Texas law to keep their vehicles in proper, working condition. When a commercial vehicle creates hazards due to poor maintenance, it's a matter of public safety. Failing to properly maintain a commercial vehicle is, simply put, a deadly mistake. A company which fails to keep their vehicles up to standard deserve to be held accountable.

All that said, mechanical issues aren't the only aspect of this accident to consider. Initial reports haven't been clear on how much time passed between the truck breaking down and Mr. Ortega's vehicle hitting it. If a significant time had passed, then there should have been reflectors, flares, or warning lights of some kind by the truck. Truckers are required by law to use some sort of visual warning--usually reflectors and flares--to alert drivers of the truck obstructing the highway. Truckers have an obligation to do everything in their power to warn drivers when something like this happens. Had the truck been along the shoulder, maybe some reflective triangles and two or three flares would have been enough. This truck was straddling multiple lanes of the highway, however, so the bare minimum wouldn't have helped. It would take significant effort to ensure drivers were properly warned. That might sound inconvenient, but people's lives are on the line in these situations.

A lot of the time, I'm accused of being anti-trucker. Nothing could be further the truth. I'm anti-bad truck driver. So I'll throw out some free advice for truck drivers, trucking companies, and their insurers who don't want to face litigation after accidents. Don't just do the bare minimum. When situations like this occur, be sure to have on hand more flares than you think you'll need, bright strobe lights, anything to signal other motorists from as great a distance as possible that there is a hazard in the road. This will not only protect drivers and their employers, but also save lives, which is the whole point of personal injury law in the first place.

In the end, there are still few details publicly available at this time. Whether the trucker took proper precautions--whether he even had enough time to do so--still remains to be seen. It will also take extensive investigations to determine the cause of the mechanical failure and whether or not the issue was foreseeable.

Unfortunately, these kinds of things aren't usually in police reports. Police reports often focus on basic fact patterns and surface information. To investigate these kinds of subtle, highly specific details, it's best to seek the aid of an independent investigator who has years of experience dealing with truck accidents. It's not enough to just say who hit who, when and where. Steps must be taken to ensure every detail is thoroughly examined and the exact cause of the accident discovered. If it so happens that someone's negligent actions contributed to another's death, then that person must be held accountable.

--Grossman Law Offices

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