Jury trials are part of the fabric of the American judicial system. The right to have one’s case decided by a jury of one’s peers is a great privilege. A jury can award substantial damages that can go far in compensating an injured person for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by a negligent driver.
However, having one’s case proceed to a trial by jury in a personal injury case (or any other case, for that matter) is not without risk. After all, if the outcome was obvious to both parties, the case would probably have settled out of court.
Facts of the Case
In a recent automobile accident case, the plaintiff was a woman who was injured in an accident that occurred when the front of the vehicle of the truck in which she was riding collided with the back of the truck that was traveling in front of it. The respective drivers had very different versions of how the accident happened, with one (the plaintiff’s daughter) claiming that the lead vehicle stopped and then backed into her vehicle, and the other driver stating that the second vehicle ran into the back of his truck while he was traveling in a forward direction.
The plaintiff filed suit against both drivers, although she stated at trial that she did not believe her daughter was at fault. The case resulted in a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor in the amount of $1,000 for past physical pain and mental anguish. The jury apportioned fault 40% to one driver and 60% to the other driver. After her motion for a new trial was denied, the plaintiff appealed.
The Opinion of the Texas Court of Appeals
On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Although the plaintiff argued that it was an error for the trial court to admit evidence as to whether she was wearing her seat belt at the time of the collision, the court found the plaintiff herself was the first party to discuss the use of her seat belt. In introducing such evidence as an accident investigator’s report that indicated that she was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, the plaintiff effectually waived any error that the trial court may have arguably made on the issue.
The court also pointed out that there has been a significant change in Texas law on the issue of seat belt usage evidence, such that relevant evidence of the use or non-use of seat belts is now admissible if such conduct caused or was a cause of the damages for which a plaintiff seeks compensation. (Previously, a plaintiff’s failure to use a seat belt was generally inadmissible in automobile accident cases.) While expert testimony might be a requirement in some cases under the new rule, the court found that this was not necessary in the plaintiff’s case. The court also noted that the trial court had declined the opportunity to have the jury consider the plaintiff’s proportionate responsibility owing to her failure to use a seat belt, thus underscoring its opinion that any error regarding such evidence was harmless.
With regard to the plaintiff’s argument that the jurors had ignored both the trial judge’s instructions and the greater weight of the evidence in awarding her only $1,000 in damages, the court found that the jury apparently did not believe the plaintiff’s testimony as to the severity of her injuries and that the verdict was not “so contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence that it was clearly wrong and unjust.”
A Knowledgeable East Texas Car Accident Lawyer Ready to Review Your Case
Experienced east Texas car accident lawyer Earl Drott has 30 years of experience helping injured people pursue maximum compensation following injuries caused by others’ negligence. To schedule a free consultation about your case, call us at (903) 531-9300.
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