Partial Summary Judgment on Liability Concerning Texas Car Accident Reversed on Appeal

In an east Texas car accident case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the accident in which the plaintiff was injured. If the plaintiff does not meet his or her burden of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, he or she will not be entitled to recover money damages.

Sometimes, certain aspects of a case may be adjudicated prior to a jury trial. For instance, if there is not a genuine issue of material fact regarding which party’s failure to meet the applicable standard of care caused the crash, summary judgment may be granted as to the issue of liability.

However, the granting of such a motion is subject to appellate review, if the defendant choses to pursue an appeal. If the appeals court disagrees with the result reached by the trial court, the matter may be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who sought to recover monetary compensation for injuries he allegedly sustained as a result of a 2016 motor vehicle accident that occurred at an intersection. According to the plaintiff, the collision occurred when he proceeded into the intersection on a green light and the defendant, who was traveling in the opposite direction, failed to yield the right-of-way and made a left turn, striking the plaintiff’s vehicle. As the case proceeded toward a trial, the plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of the defendant’s alleged negligence. The plaintiff offered his deposition, his medical records, and a peace officer’s crash report as evidence in support of his motion.

In response, the defendant asserted that summary judgment was inappropriate because a factual issue had been raised by the discovery responses, which asserted that the accident happened when he had a signal (a “left turn yield”) that gave him the right-of-way to make his turn. According to his view of the case, the plaintiff caused the crash by striking his vehicle as he proceeded through the intersection after waiting for the appropriate signal. The trial court granted the motion, and the case proceeded to trial. At trial, the defendant testified that he was “turning left on a green light” and that the accident happened because the plaintiff did not have his headlights on. The jury found in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding him $29,543.68 for past medical care, $15,000 for past physical impairment, and $20,000 for past physical pain. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial, and he appealed.

The Court’s Holding

The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed and remanded. Under Texas law, neither a driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way nor the mere occurrence of a collision gives rise to a finding of negligence as a matter of law. Rather, the plaintiff has the burden of proving specific acts of negligence on the driver’s part, such that the driver’s actions (or inaction) was the proximate cause of the accident. Although the appellate court acknowledged that motorists generally owed one another a duty to exercise reasonable care, it found that the plaintiff’s evidence did not conclusively show that the defendant breached this duty. At best, the court found that the plaintiff had presented evidence that the defendant had failed to yield the right-of-way and that there had been a collision; however, this was not enough to establish negligence as a matter of law as was required on a motion for summary judgment.

The court went on to point out that the evidence offered by the parties with respect to the motion for summary judgment was “not free from contradictions and inconsistencies.” Pointing out differences in the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, the defendant, and the peace officer who wrote the crash report, the court concluded that summary judgment had been inappropriate. Accordingly, the matter was ordered to be remanded to the lower tribunal, where the issue of liability could be properly presented to a jury for its determination in a new trial, along with the issue of any money damages due to the plaintiff if he prevailed on the liability issue.

Get Advice from an East Texas Car Accident Lawyer

When a motorist causes a wreck by his or her carelessness or neglect, innocent people can be badly hurt or even lose their lives. If you need to talk to an established motor vehicle accident attorney about filing suit against a driver whose negligence has injured you or a family member, contact Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300 or through this website. Remember that there is a time limit on filing a car accident case, so it’s important to talk to an attorney about your case as soon as possible, so that you don’t risk forfeiting important legal rights.

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