Texas Appeals Court Affirms “Take Nothing” Judgment in Wrongful Death Case Arising from Tractor Trailer and Passenger Car Crash

In some east Texas truck accident cases, liability is clear. Everyone agrees who was at fault, but a trial may still be necessary because of a disagreement about the amount of money that it will take to fully compensate the plaintiff for the injuries caused by the defendant’s negligence.

In other cases, however, both liability and damages are contested, and the jury must decide both who was at fault and the amount of money due the “innocent” (or less at-fault, as the case may be) driver. Of course, the jury must follow certain rules and instructions in so doing, and it is not unusual for the losing side to file an appeal, arguing that the trial court gave erroneous instructions or that the jury misapplied the directions given by the judge.

Once the case reaches the appellate court level, the reviewing court has a few choices. It can reverse the lower court’s decision and send the case back for a retrial; it can opine that, although some error may have occurred, it did not ultimately affect the outcome of the proceedings; or it can determine that there were no errors made by the lower court.

Facts of the Case

A recent Texas appeals court case focused on whether a trial court had erred in the admission of certain evidence in a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died in a 2016 accident that occurred when the decedent’s automobile (a Corvette) made contact with the back of a tractor-trailer and then traveled into a ditch some distance away. In their lawsuit, which was filed in the 1st District Court, Newton County, Texas, the decedent’s family asserted that the accident was caused by the defendant truck driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way to the decedent; according to this view of the case, the trucker turned in front of the decedent, thereby causing the crash and the decedent’s death.

The truck driver and his employer (also named as a defendant in the lawsuit) averred that the decedent was at fault in the accident because he was speeding and was under the influence of both marijuana and methamphetamines, which they claimed impaired his ability to operate his vehicle safely. The case was tried to a jury, which resolved the factual issues regarding negligence in favor of the trucker and trucking company. The trial court entered judgment in their favor, and the decedent’s family appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of Texas at Beaumont affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the trucker and trucking company. On appeal, the decedent’s family argued that the trial court erred in admitting a toxicology report regarding the marijuana and methamphetamine in the decedent’s system at the time of the crash; in asking for a new trial, the family insisted that the admission of the report resulted in the jury basing their decision on emotion and bias rather than on the evidence. The family also argued that the jury’s verdict was against the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence, which they believed pointed to the trucker’s failure to yield as the proximate cause of the crash.

The appellate court rejected the family’s arguments, pointing out that the family had questioned their own expert witness concerning the toxicology report; under Texas law, a party cannot complain about evidence offered by the other side when the complaining party has introduced the same or similar evidence at trial. With regard to the verdict, the reviewing court pointed out that the jury was the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given to the testimony submitted at trial. Here, there was conflicting evidence about the cause of the crash, but the court of appeals could not say that the jury’s verdict was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, the jury’s verdict was not to be disturbed on appeal.

Speak with Counsel About a Car Crash in East Texas

The insurance companies that insure truck drivers and the trucking outfits that employee them are well-versed in the litigation of tractor-truck accidents. You can bet that they will have someone on the scene within hours, investigating the case from every angle. If you or someone in your family has been hurt by a trucker or trucking company’s negligence or recklessness, you need an experienced east Texas truck accident lawyer looking out for your interests. For a free consultation, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300 or use the “contact us” form on this website.

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