Victoria driver sues 2 companies after legs crushed

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

April 14, 2014 at 7 p.m.
Updated April 13, 2014 at 11:14 p.m.

A Victoria driver claims he followed his boss' instructions and climbed inside a belly dump trailer even though he thought it was unsafe.

Jimmy Suniga claims the trailer, which opened from the bottom, suddenly snapped shut, crushing his legs the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2012, when he was cleaning it at a property in the 3100 block of Port Lavaca Drive.

Now, Suniga has filed a second lawsuit against his employer at the time, E&S Trucking, and the corporation that owns the land where the incident occurred, Salazar Land Development.

Suniga claims both parties' negligence led to the injuries on both of his legs and ankles as well as his hips and back.

He wrote he is owed about $2.5 million in damages. His Houston attorney, Christopher K. Johns, could not be reached for comment.

Suniga's first lawsuit concerned the same injury. It was dismissed at the plaintiff's request Feb. 11, a day after the new lawsuit was filed and about a week before Judge Skipper Koetter was scheduled to hear a motion for summary judgment, according to court records.

Koetter already had dismissed the old lawsuit, Suniga's claims against JL Salazar Trucking and its owner, Jose Salazar.

Jose Salazar owns shares of Salazar Land Development Inc.

This came after Jose Salazar's attorneys cited a 2003 Supreme Court of Texas decision about a case involving Shell Oil Company and a gas station clerk, Mohammed Khan, to support their argument that land owners don't have a duty to protect individuals from defects that arise as a result of working there.

Khan argued a robber was able to shoot him in the left leg before he could get back inside the building and lock it because the site had poor lighting, surveillance, signage and fencing.

The justices sided with Shell.

"It was not the property that injured this man; it was a vehicle that injured him," Victoria attorney Douglass Anderson said Friday of Suniga's second case against his client, Salazar Land Investment.

Salazar Land Investment is not a construction site but a place where construction equipment is kept overnight.

E&S Trucking, which Suniga worked for at the time, stored its vehicles there, Anderson said, adding he understood Suniga was not even supposed to be working on the vehicle.

"He pulled a lever or a switch that caused the bottom of the truck to close up. ... He shut the truck on himself," Anderson said.

E&S Trucking and the man Suniga says was his boss for nine months in 2012, Elviz Salazar, are also named in the suit. One of their attorneys, James Upton, of Corpus Christi, declined to comment about the case.

It appeared Friday afternoon that another defendant, a man named Rosaleo Martinez, had not replied to the suit. His role in the incident is unclear.

Attorneys also have not begun discovery, or the process of gathering documents to support their positions and taking depositions.

In a deposition taken in the earlier lawsuit, Suniga described how he opened the belly dump trailer from a switch inside the cab of the 18-wheeler it was attached to. He understood the switch fired the command to open the belly dump trailer from an extra wire Elviz Salazar added that connected it to the 18-wheeler.

"I've been stopped by the law and said that that's no good. And I tell Elviz: 'Man, look at this. Even the lawman says it ain't no good.' He was just, 'Don't worry about it, Jimmy,'" Suniga said in the deposition.

The belly dump trailer could also be opened manually via a lever on its side. Suniga said while working for other companies, he was given a bar to wedge between the mouth of the belly dump trailer to prevent it from closing.

Suniga also said then that Jose Salazar rigged his fleet with an extra wire, too.

Jose Salazar said in his deposition, though, that his vehicles were not missing parts and had not been altered.

Jose Salazar was the one who dialed 911 when Suniga got hurt. He said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not investigate.



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