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Truck Accidents in New Mexico's Permian Basin Region

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What you need to know about your legal rights

Located in southeastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas, the Permian Basin is one of the largest oil and natural gas producing areas in the nation, in addition to other industrial activity such as potassium salts (potash) mining in Lea and Eddy counties. The presence of the oil and gas industry means there is a high volume of truck traffic on the roads, and unfortunately, those trucks are involved in many serious and fatal accidents.

If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a truck wreck in the Permian Basin, you have legal recourse – but you need to fight for it. Here's what you need to know and why you need an experienced New Mexico truck accident attorney.

Types of truck traffic in the Permian Basin region

The oil and gas industry needs specific kinds of trucks to transport both equipment and products. Some of the heavy trucks that are often involved in accidents include:

  • Fuel tankers: Oil tankers and other trucks carrying liquid loads are highly unstable because their center of gravity is quite high, and the liquid load may shift suddenly if the truck takes a curve too quickly (referred to as sloshing). In the event of a crash, the highly flammable cargo can become a hazard to everyone else on the road.
  • Pneumatic dump trucks: Sand is used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations and other types of extraction equipment. Pneumatic (belly dump) trucks are one of the types of trucks used to transport sand to work sites. Drivers of these trucks are required to have specific training and experience because they can be so unwieldy.
  • Sandbox trucks: The other way to transport sand is with a sandbox container placed on a regular flatbed trailer. Sandbox truck drivers are generally only required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) with no other special training. Unfortunately, many of the sandbox drivers in the Permian Basin have little experience with the area's road conditions, increasing the risk of accidents.

Truck accidents in the Permian Basin can also involve many other types of trucks, ranging from tractor-trailers that haul mining and extraction equipment to smaller vehicles like dump trucks that may not even require a CDL. There is also a high volume of pickup truck and SUV traffic from oil and gas employees, whether privately owned or company-owned.

Key risk factors in Permian Basin truck accidents

One reason the Permian Basin is so dangerous is that until recently, most of the region consisted of quiet, sparsely populated farming communities. Hence, the roads in the area were simply not built with the oil and gas industry in mind. For instance, one of the region's main thoroughfares is the stretch of Route 285 from Pecos, Texas, to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Historically, most of the traffic on this road was farm vehicles (and not very many of them). Now, thanks to the heavy truck traffic and correspondingly high number of accidents, locals call the road "Death Highway."

The national truck driver shortage has hit the Permian Basin very hard. Because the area is so sparsely populated and so many drivers are needed, many inexperienced truckers come to the region from other parts of the country. Unfortunately, that means they lack both general experience driving a heavy truck and specific experience with the area's hazardous rural roads and highways.

Another issue is the overall mentality of the oil and gas industry. Truck drivers are under intense pressure to hit deadlines and maximize productivity, which leads to speeding, reckless driving, and fatigue from working through mandatory rest breaks. In addition, oil industry employees work long and irregular hours, which means heavy traffic on the roads at all hours of the day and night. Since most of the communities in the Permian Basin are quite small and have limited development, many oil and gas workers also have extremely long commutes to areas with more housing, which adds to their fatigue behind the wheel – whether driving commercial vehicles or their personal vehicles.

Who is liable for a truck accident in the Permian Basin?

Liability for a truck accident involving an oil or gas vehicle can be complicated. In part, it depends on whether the driver was an employee of an oil or gas company, a trucking company, or an independent contractor. Employers are typically responsible for their employees' negligence on the job (a legal doctrine called respondeat superior). There are also several other forms of negligence that can apply to truck accidents, including:

  • Hiring an unqualified driver. Anyone driving a vehicle over 26,000 pounds needs to hold a commercial driver's license (CDL). Oil tanker drivers need two additional endorsements on their CDL: a liquid cargo (tanker) endorsement and a hazardous materials endorsement. Other types of specialized vehicles may require special training as well. Trucking and oil companies can be held accountable when they hire unqualified drivers.
  • Hours of service (HOS) violations. The federal Hours of Service guidelines limit the number of hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel in a workday and workweek and require certain amounts of break time during a shift. There are several nuances to how the HOS guidelines apply to the oil and gas industry, depending on the type of truck. HOS violations can result in truckers falling asleep at the wheel and causing serious accidents.
  • Negligent supervision and retention. Companies that employ truckers are responsible for ensuring their employees are safe and responsible operators. If a business fails to supervise its drivers adequately or retains a trucker despite a history of dangerous behavior (like drunk driving), it can be held responsible for accidents caused.
  • Poor truck maintenance. Heat and sand take a heavy toll on trucks, especially during summer. However, the Permian Basin region's infrastructure is often inadequate to keep trucks maintained. Accidents involving tire blowouts or jackknifing due to brake failure are frequently the result of poor maintenance.

New Mexico juries have held commercial vehicle drivers to a higher standard of care than private motorists (Santa Fe Trust v. Standard E&S, First Judicial District of New Mexico, 2013). Businesses that operate these large, unwieldy, and potentially dangerous vehicles need to meet high standards of safety and training.

In some circumstances, the responsible party for a truck accident may be a truck manufacturer or another negligent party, such as the driver of another vehicle. One of the reasons to retain an experienced truck accident attorney is that we can investigate and identify all responsible parties to maximize your recovery.

Why you need an experienced New Mexico truck accident attorney

The stakes are high in trucking litigation, and the oil companies and trucking companies know it. They hire teams of attorneys and often have investigators on the scene within 24 hours of an accident to recover critical evidence. In addition, the evidence in an oil and gas accident case may be scattered widely, with companies and employees based in multiple states. Critical legal deadlines can affect your ability to recover compensation. Ultimately, taking on a trucking company or oil company alone is nearly impossible.

The only way to level the playing field is to get an experienced New Mexico personal injury attorney on your side. Your lawyer can investigate the accident, retain experts, and secure critical evidence before the trucking company can destroy it.

The right representation can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. In one example, the family of a man killed in a head-on collision with a commercial truck in Lea County, New Mexico, retained Keller & Keller to handle their wrongful death case. Thanks to the law firm's exhaustive investigation and aggressive negotiations, the case ultimately settled for $48.5 million, one of the largest pre-trial settlements in New Mexico history.

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a truck accident in the Permian Basin, you need the right lawyer to take on the oil companies, trucking companies, and their insurance companies. Talk to a verified New Mexico truck accident attorney in your area today.

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Since 1936, Keller & Keller has won more than $1 billion for injury victims. An Albuquerque-based law firm helping families throughout New Mexico with Injury and Wrongful Death ca...