Texas Appeals Court Holds That New Trial in Uninsured Motorist Car Insurance Case Was Unwarranted

When a Texas car accident lawsuit is tried to a jury, it is highly likely that one party or the other will be dissatisfied with the verdict. When this happens, one side or the other (or sometimes both) may seek a new trial.

While new trials are sometimes granted, this is the exception rather than the rule. In the event that the court does order a second trial, the party favored by the original verdict may seek review from a higher court.

Such was the scenario leading up to a recent appellate court case arising from an uninsured motorist claim against an insurance company. The jury ruled in the plaintiff’s favor but did not award the full damages sought by the plaintiff. The insurance company apparently feared an even higher verdict if the case was retried – so it sought mandamus relief from the court of appeals.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who was allegedly injured in an automobile accident caused by an uninsured motorist. The plaintiff filed suit, seeking to recover benefits from his uninsured motorist insurance company for damages caused by the accident. The matter proceeded to trial in the County Court of Law of Jefferson County, Texas, and the case was submitted to a jury for determination of the amount of compensation due the plaintiff. The jury awarded damages for past physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, physical impairment, medical expenses, and loss of earning capacity; however, the jury declined to award compensation for future physical pain and suffering, future mental anguish, or future physical impairment.

The trial court ruled that failing to award future damages was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence in light of uncontroverted testimony from the plaintiff and two members of his family and in light of the jury’s awards of other damages. Accordingly, a new trial was ordered. The insurance company sought mandamus relief from the new trial order.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the insurance company contended that the lower court’s order granting of new trial was not supported by the record; the plaintiff insisted that the trial court’s order stated sufficient facts upon which to base its decision regarding a new trial and that the defendant had failed to show an abuse of discretion by the trial court. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of Texas at Beaumont conditionally granted the insurance company’s request for mandamus relief after concluding that there was factually sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and that the record did not support the granting of a new trial.

In granting mandamus relief, the appellate court pointed out that a trial court must provide an “understandable, reasonably specific explanation” for setting aside a jury’s verdict in favor of a new trial. In order for such an order to be upheld on appeal, the trial tribunal must identify a legally appropriate and specific reason for the new trial. Here, the appellate tribunal found that there was sufficient information in the order to explain why a new trial was ordered, but, in the appeals court’s view, the trial court explanation “usurped the jury’s right to weigh the evidence and decide what testimony was credible.”

In so holding, the court noted that the jury’s decision not to award future damages may have been because the plaintiff’s evidence consisted solely of testimony from interested witness and/or the fact that it had been several years since the plaintiff had received any medical treatment for injuries suffered in the accident.

To Speak to an East Texas Attorney About a Car Accident

Automobile accident cases can be very contentious, even when the “opponent” is the plaintiff’s own insurance company. If you have been hurt in an auto accident by a negligent driver and need legal advice about your case, Earl Drott Law is here to help. We have been handling east Texas car accident cases for over three decades, and Attorney Drott is board certified in personal injury law. For an appointment to discuss your accident case, call us now at 903-531-9300.

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