In most east Texas car accident cases, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, each of the four distinct elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Occasionally, however, a case arises in which a legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur applies.
Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” In the context of a negligence lawsuit, a res ipsa loquitur instruction allows the jury to infer negligence from the circumstances of the accident, thereby effectively lowering the burden of proof for the plaintiff.
Facts of the Case
A recently decided case (Fourth Court of Appeals of Texas; No.04-17-00276-CV) involved a claim brought by a man who alleged that he was injured when a tire detached from another motorist’s pickup truck and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. According to the plaintiff, the defendant tire company had recently rotated the tires on the pickup, and its negligence in doing so was the proximate cause of his injuries. At trial, the court granted a directed verdict in favor of the pickup truck owner but denied the tire company’s motion for a directed verdict. The jury found that the tire company was negligent and awarded damages to the plaintiff. The tire company appealed.
Decision of the Appellate Court
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s award of damages in favor of the plaintiff and rendered judgment directing that the plaintiff take nothing on his personal injury claim against the tire company. The defendant’s main argument on appeal was that the trial court had acted erroneously in giving the jury an instruction on res ipsa loquitur. The court acknowledged that the doctrine only applies when the character of the accident was such that it would not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence, and the instrumentality causing the injury was shown to have been under the management and control of the defendant.
Since some 55 hours elapsed between the time that the tire company rotated the tires on the pickup truck and the accident in question, the appellate court found that the doctrine did not apply. According to the court, not only did the owner of the truck have control over his vehicle during most of that time, but also the truck was, at times, parked in places where it was accessible by the general public. Since the plaintiff was unable to otherwise prove that the defendant had breached its duty of care, the trial court erred in awarding damages to the plaintiff.
East Texas Car Accident Attorney Reviewing Cases
Even after 34 years of handling east Texas car accidents, it seems there is no end to the ways in which people can be hurt or killed by others’ mistakes. Unfortunately, proving fault can sometimes be difficult. Having a board certified car accident attorney on your side can help. To schedule an appointment to discuss your car, truck, or motorcycle collision, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300. Any delay in seeking legal representation can put your case at risk; evidence can disappear or be manipulated, and important deadlines can pass – possibly resulting in the dismissal of your case on procedural grounds.
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