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Trucking industry needs Texas Supreme Court to review verdict against Werner Enterprises

By Jim Dorion | March 18, 2024

If this decision is affirmed, truckers who drive lawfully could be liable for a crash involving a motorist on the other side of the highway who loses control of their vehicle from their own negligence.

If this decision is affirmed, there is concern Texas motorists who drive lawfully and below the speed limit could be liable for a crash involving a motorist on the other side of the highway who loses control of their vehicle through their own negligence. Those involved in the trucking industry, their insurers, and many members of the public would consider this outcome completely untenable.

The lawsuit at issue was filed by the Blake family, which was involved in a crash with a Werner truck. As a result of that crash, they lost a 7-year-old child and had another child, who was 12 at the time, rendered a quadriplegic. On December 14, 2014, the Blakes were traveling east on Interstate 20 in Texas in a pickup truck driven by Zaragoza Salinas. With weather conditions worsening, and while traveling 50-60 mph, a car ahead of them began to fishtail. Salinas lost control and careened across a grass median, entering the westbound lanes where Shiraz Ali was driving a truck for Werner going west on I-20. Ali was driving below the speed limit when the pickup truck began to spin. Ali reacted quickly and hit the brakes but could not avoid hitting the pickup truck.

In July 2018, a jury found Werner liable, and the district court judge signed off on the jury award of almost $90 million. When asked to apportion fault, the jury assigned 45% to Ali and 55% to Salinas; however, the jury was also asked to apportion fault between Ali, Salinas, and Werner via its employees other than Ali. In response, they assigned 14% to Ali, 16% to Salinas, and 70% to Werner. Observers find these questions, as well as the jury’s responses, confusing and legally nonsensical. Werner owes, after interest, nearly $92 million and Ali owes nearly $13 million. Werner disputed the judgment and appealed, raising several issues including the determination of liability and the assessment of future medical care expenses. The Court of Appeals of Texas upheld the original verdict in May 2023. Werner has now appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court.

Members of the trucking and insurance industries are anxiously awaiting the results of this appeal to the Texas Supreme Court because this verdict defies common sense when you consider that:

  • Ali maintained complete control of his vehicle at all times.
  • He never left his lane of travel.
  • He acted reasonably in response to the sudden emergency when a vehicle crossed the median and struck his truck head on.
  • Even the Blakes’ expert witness conceded that Ali’s reaction was “very quick” and “appropriate to the conditions.”
  • Westbound I-20 was not slick like the eastbound lanes due to heavier traffic melting the ice with friction and heat.
  • The Texas Department of Transportation felt conditions were safe enough to keep the interstate open.
  • Salinas made statements suggesting guilt and responsibility, but the Blakes were able to successfully object to evidence that Salinas lacked a valid driver’s license.
  • A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper defended Ali’s actions. Trooper Villareal, a 17-year veteran who investigated the accident, concluded it was “truly an accident,” that Ali “didn’t do anything wrong” and that there was nothing Ali “could have done to avoid the collision.” A higher-ranking trooper who approved the report concurred.

The Blakes’ based their case on the theory that Ali should not have been on I-20 that day despite it remaining open for public travel. The theory was based on Texas’ CDL manual that discusses slippery surfaces. Werner argued that the manual required commercial drivers to match their speed to the road surface to ensure they can maintain traction and visibility. The Blakes, however, flipped the purpose, claiming it was designed to protect non-CDL drivers (like them) who might lose control and collide with commercial drivers. The Blakes’ argument was backed by an expert with no legal or regulatory experience and no employment in trucking in 30 years.

The potential impact of this case is important because, if the decision is upheld, it will further and unduly burden an essential industry.


Werner Enters. v. Blake

Werner Enterprises Inc V. Blake (2023)


Willis Towers Watson hopes you found the general information provided in this publication informative and helpful. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal advisors. In the event you would like more information regarding your insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. In North America, Willis Towers Watson offers insurance products through licensed subsidiaries of Willis North America Inc., including Willis Towers Watson Northeast Inc. (in the United States) and Willis Canada, Inc.


Claim Advocacy Practice Leader, NA and Head of Liability Claim Consulting
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