Texas Judiciary

Texas has an unusual appeals process for judicial cases. District courts, where trials on matters of fact are held, are separated into different types according to the kind of cases they hear. You may notice when you vote in county elections, there are civil courts, criminal courts, probate courts, family courts, etc.

All these cases are appealed to a court that has jurisdiction in all of those areas. The First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, which meet in Houston, hear all kinds of criminal and civil cases.

After that, however, the process splits again. Criminal cases go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Civil cases go to the Texas Supreme Court.

Go the the Texas Supreme Court website: http://www.txcourts.gov/supreme/

Use the “case search” feature to find a case called “Mo-Vac Service Company v. Estate of Fabian Escobedo(18-0852 ),” decided on June 12, 2020.

Fabian Escobedo was a truck driver who worked for Mo-Vac Service Company, a company out of Dilley, Texas, with a fleet of tank trucks servicing oil and gas drilling sites. Escobedo was killed when his rig ran off the highway and rolled over. His estate sued Mo-Vac, saying his death was caused by his falling asleep at the wheel due to fatigue from being “forced to work grueling hours,” and presented pretty strong evidence of reprehensible behavior by Mo-Vac. Because Mo-Vac participates in the state’s workers’ compensation system, though, a 1916 law says that Escobedo’s benefits payable through workers’ compensation are the “exclusive remedy” for this unless it can be proven that Mo-Vac basically wanted the accident to happen and believed that the his death was substantially certain to result from it – a nearly impossible standard for a plaintiff to prove in a lawsuit like this.

Write a 2 – 5 page essay explaining the facts of the case and how the court ruled. What did Chief Justice Hecht say about the court’s reasoning in his majority opinion? What is a concurring opinion, and what did Justice Guzman say in hers? Note the unusual step taken by Justice Guzman in urging the Texas Legislature to take a look at the workers’ compensation law next year. Is that an appropriate role for a judge? Most important: If you had been on the Supreme Court, how would you have ruled and why? [Interesting note: You’ll notice it says “Justice Lehrmann did not participate in the decision” – it’s because she was sick with COVID-19. She’s now recovering)

Submit in Word. Cite your sources.

Other Resources

Here’s where you can find the official court opinions: https://www.txcourts.gov/supreme/orders-opinions/2020/june/june-12-2020/

JDSupra explains the case: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/texas-supreme-court-clarifies-standard-48737/

Landline, a truckers’ publication,  has a nice article about the case: https://landline.media/texas-supreme-court-rules-on-workers-compensation-wrongful-death-case/

BusinessInsurance.com has this article: https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20200615/NEWS08/912335117/Exclusive-remedy-bars-family-from-suing-in-Texas-truck-driver%E2%80%99s-death-Mo-Vac-Ser

Note on state court websites

The Texas Supreme Court seems to take its website down for maintenance a lot, usually around time time you’re supposed to be working on my Texas courts assignment. If the website is down, there are some alternative ways to get the information you need.

Here’s another way to get to the majority opinion: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/supreme-court/2019/17-0345.html

Here’s another way to get to the concurring opinion: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/supreme-court/2019/17-0345-0.html