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Driver’s Employer May be Liable in Deadly Oxnard Metrolink Crash

metrolink yardThe Los Angeles personal injury attorneys at Ellis Law continue to investigate the circumstances of the February 24 Metrolink train crash in Oxnard, which took a tragic turn this week with the death of the commuter train’s engineer Glenn Steele, a 40-year rail veteran who authorities have indicated was blameless for the accident. Our investigative team has discovered that the man driving the produce truck that caused the crash, 54-year-old Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez from Yuma, Arizona, was working for his employer at the time of the accident, which under California’s “vicarious liability” laws means that the employer may be legally liable for any losses or damages caused by Sanchez-Ramirez’s actions.

At the time of the crash, Sanchez-Ramirez was acting directly within the scope of his employment, since he was en route to an agricultural field as part of his work for Harvest Management LLC, a company that employs around 40 drivers and specializes in transporting produce and farm equipment. Harvest Management is based in Somerton, Arizona. Sanchez-Ramirez has been an employee of Harvest Management for over 12 years.

Employer liability in California

In the state of California, employers are vicariously liable for the negligent acts or omissions committed by their employees in the course of their employment duties.

A California court described “vicarious liability” this way (keep in mind that a “tort” simply refers to any wrong for which the law provides a remedy):

“Under the respondeat superior doctrine, an employer may be vicariously liable for torts committed by an employee. The rule is based on the policy that losses caused by the torts of employees, which as a practical matter are certain to occur in the conduct of the employer’s enterprise, should be placed on the enterprise as a cost of doing business.”

The message of this law is loud and clear to businesses: accepting at least a portion of responsibility for the negligent and/or harmful actions of your employee while he or she is “on the job” is simply a cost of doing business in the state of California.

Under the California Civil Code, “vicariously liable” employers may be responsible for all or part of the economic damages resulting from an employee’s negligence, depending on the circumstances of the case. Economic damages refer to any provable monetary losses, such as medical costs, wage losses, property damage, funeral costs, and more.

In regard to “non-economic” damages such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress, the employer’s liability is determined in accordance with what their “percentage of fault” is deemed to be.

Was the truck driver’s negligence to blame?

Many questions about the Metrolink railroad accident have yet to be satisfactorily answered. Why did Sanchez-Ramirez turn his Ford F-450 pickup truck onto the train tracks instead of Fifth Street? Was he on the phone at the time or otherwise driving while distracted? Why did he continue to drive the truck a full 80 feet away from the rail crossing before coming to a stop? Why did he flee the scene of the crash? Why was he found by cops a mile and a half away from the scene, and why did he never report the accident until then?

While prior illegal acts or misconduct may have no bearing on the present tragedy, Ellis Law has discovered that Sanchez-Ramirez has a prior conviction for drunk driving in 1998. He pled guilty at the time to multiple criminal violations, including driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08, possessing an alcoholic beverage in the company of a minor, disobeying a police officer’s instructions, and not having auto insurance.

It’s not the only time – or even the most recent – that Sanchez-Ramirez has been in trouble with the law because of driving infractions. Demonstrating a pattern of negligence behind the wheel, in 2004 he was convicted in Arizona of a driving violation, and again in 2007 for failing to obey local traffic laws.

Speak for free with a knowledgeable train accident attorney in L.A.

Determining liability in railroad crossing accidents is a complex process, with multiple entities and deep-pocketed insurance companies all pointing fingers and trying to evade fault. Victims of these catastrophes need a law firm on their side with the experience and tenacity to hold responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they have caused. You shouldn’t have to face devastating consequences simply because you bought a train ticket, and you shouldn’t have to face insult added to injury when the person who caused the accident refuses to take the blame.

The California railroad accident lawyers at Ellis Law have a proven record of success in vigorously defending the rights of train crash victims in the Los Angeles area. If you or a loved one was hurt in the Oxnard Metrolink crash, call us today for a comprehensive no-cost consultation. We will listen to your story and outline all the legal issues regrading liability and your right to compensation. The more information you have, the better able you are to decide if filing a personal injury lawsuit is the right decision for you and your family. If the Ellis Law Firm takes your case, you owe us nothing unless we win your case. Call us today at 1-800-INJURED to take the first step towards justice.

  1. Los Angeles Times, A week after Metrolink train crashes into truck, engineer dies, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-20150303-story.html
  2. California Civil Code Section 1431.2, http://law.onecle.com/california/civil/1431.2.html
  3. LILY KEPHART et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v.GENUITY, INC., https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17955707541879379739&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr