Jason Stephens | February 13, 2021 | Car Accidents
Over the weekend, 133 cars were involved in a massive chain-collision car wreck on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth, TX. Icy road conditions – a rare occurrence in the heart of Texas – set the stage for the devastating car accident that spanned more than half a mile. At least six people were killed and dozens more sustained injuries.
Surviving accident victims and families of those killed in the pileup may have legal recourse for their injuries and suffering. Personal injury claims and/or wrongful death lawsuits may very well be filed in the days and months ahead.
Who Could Be Financially Responsible for Damages Related to the Fort Worth Ice Accident?
While ice and slick road conditions might have increased the likelihood of an accident, drivers still have an obligation to drive safely. When road conditions are poor, that simply means that drivers must exercise more caution behind the wheel.
If drivers engaged in any of the following behaviors, they almost certainly did not exercise an appropriate level of care, given the circumstances:
- Driving too closely to vehicles (tailgating)
- Changing lanes without signaling
- Failing to yield the right of way
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
- Distracted driving.
If drivers didn’t take the icy road conditions into consideration, or engaged in driving behaviors that increase the risk of a crash, they might be considered negligent.
Negligent motorists could include:
- Drivers of passenger vehicles
- Drivers of large commercial trucks, tractor-trailers, semis, and big rigs
- Uber and Lyft drivers, or
- Bus operators.
Negligent motorists could be financially liable if their actions cause others to get hurt or sustain damages.
Texas might not get a lot of snow and ice, but that doesn’t mean that the agencies in charge of the roads don’t have to be prepared for these types of situations. Salting roads and/or applying some kind of saline treatment is standard protocol when there’s a threat of ice, snow, or rain and sub-freezing temperatures. It’s a simple way to keep road surfaces from freezing and to increase the traction available to tires as vehicles drive on potentially-slick roads.
There is a huge question about whether or not I-35 was treated for ice and snow. The North Tarrant Express – a division of the Texas Department of Transportation responsible for operating the stretch of road where the accident happened – maintains that maintenance crews did treat road surfaces on Tuesday morning before the accident. However, the Fort Worth Fire Department reportedly had to bring its own salt and sand to the scene because the roads were in such bad shape.
Some referred to the road surfaces as being so slippery that it was like stepping on an ice rink. That doesn’t offer a lot of support to the DOT’s claims that they had taken care of the roads.
If the North Tarrant Express failed to treat the roads, or if its treatments were insufficient, it might be responsible for the crash and the resulting fallout. While government agencies are typically immune from civil personal injury and/or wrongful death lawsuits, that immunity can be waived when negligence is a factor.
What if a driver hit the brakes to stop their vehicle on the icy road conditions but the brakes failed? Or, what if a driver approaching the pileup from behind tried to swerve to avoid adding to the chain-collision, but the car didn’t respond? The company responsible for designing, manufacturing, or selling faulty equipment could be accountable. If a product defect contributes to or causes an accident, the company behind it can be liable under Texas state product liability laws.
Contributory Negligence Will Likely Play a Role When Lawsuits Are Filed
Texas operates under a modified comparative negligence system with a 51% bar to recovery. Simply, everyone who contributes to an accident – directly or indirectly – will share liability for resulting damages. This includes individuals who are injured. Victims can seek damages for their injuries as long as they are partly, but not mostly, to blame. Once someone’s share of the blame exceeds 50%, they are prohibited from recovering compensation for their injuries from other parties.
Texas has fault-based insurance laws. This means that anyone injured in the Fort Worth pileup can seek damages from the insurance companies of responsible parties. However, those insurance companies will undoubtedly try to “blame the victim” to either (a) deny claims in full or (b) minimize how much they ultimately have to pay out.
It’s important for anyone injured in a car accident – including the recent 133 car pileup in Fort Worth, to seek the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Allegations of the blame can significantly impact how much – if any – compensation is available. An experienced attorney can help victims increase the odds of a full and fair financial award. Most offer a free consultation, so there’s no risk in getting some preliminary legal advice.