Texas Appellate Court Affirms in Part, Modifies in Part $1 Million Judgment in Car Wreck Case

If you have been hurt or lost a family member in an east Texas car accident caused by another driver’s negligence, you have the right to file a lawsuit seeking fair compensation. If you are unable to reach a settlement with the opposing party, your case may be tried by a jury, who will determine who was at fault and the amount of money damages to which you are entitled.

There are many rules of civil procedure that govern trial practice in Texas. An experienced trial lawyer can explain how those procedural rules may affect your case, should it proceed to trial.

Keep in mind that, although the majority of cases do settle prior to trial, it is important to assume that your case will be fully litigated – all the way to trial and maybe even through the appellate process – and prepare accordingly. Insurance companies can tell when an injured party isn’t prepared to go to trial, and they base their offer accordingly.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was man who was seriously injured in a 2015 traffic accident in which he was rear-ended by the defendant motorist. The defendant denied liability, and the case proceeded to a trial by jury. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $1,070,500 in damages. After the trial court had entered judgment on the jury’s verdict, the plaintiff sought leave of court to file an amended petition increasing his “maximum amount pleaded” from $200,000 to the amount of the jury’s verdict. The defendant appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas modified the amount of the judgment and affirmed the judgment as modified. As grounds for appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court had made two reversible errors: 1) sustaining two objections to the defendant’s striking of two potential jurors and 2) allowing the plaintiff to amend his petition to conform to the jury’s verdict. With regard to the first issue, the appellate court found no error. As to the second grounds for appeal asserted by the defendant, the court of appeals found that the trial court had abused its discretion.

Under the rules of civil procedure and past case law from the United State Supreme Court, there are limitations on the reasons that a potential juror may be excused from service by one of the parties to a lawsuit. Generally speaking, a potential juror cannot be excused simply on account of his or her race. This practice, which was once common, was deemed unconstitutional in criminal cases back in the mid-1980s; the rule has since been extended to civil cases, as well. In the case at bar, the defendant attempted to strike two Hispanic potential jurors, but the trial court sustained the plaintiff’s objections to these challenges. Although the defendant argued on appeal that he had proffered a race-neutral reason for striking the two jurors, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sustaining his objections to the defendant’s attempt to strike the two jurors in question.

As to the trial court’s order allowing the plaintiff to amend his complaint to conform to the jury’s verdict, the appellate court found that the trial court was wrong to allow the amendment under the circumstances and reduced the amount of damages due the plaintiff to the $200,000 that he had initially sought in his complaint. Pointing out that the trial court had already entered judgment on the jury’s verdict when it granted the plaintiff permission to increase his demand for damages to the amount awarded by the jury, the reviewing court agreed with the defendant that the trial court lacked the authority to grant leave to amend the pleadings after a judgment had been entered in the case.

Get Legal Representation in an East Texas Car Accident Case

Following a serious auto accident, those who are injured or who have a lost loved one often have many questions. How can we prove who was at fault? What do we need to do to file a claim against the at-fault driver? How much time do we have to take legal action? If your family needs the answers to these or other questions, experienced personal injury attorney Earl Drott can help. For a free, complimentary case evaluation, contact us through this website or phone Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300. We look forward to putting our three decades of experience to work your family.

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