Texas Appellate Court Partially Affirms Verdict in Truck Driver Negligence Case but Issues Remittitur as to Some Future Medical Expenses Damages

A Texas truck accident can be devastating to an innocent motorist and his or her family. Medical bills can quickly mount, and finances can quickly spiral out of control with little or no money coming in due to the accident victim’s inability to work, either temporarily or permanently.

Fortunately, truck drivers and trucking companies can be held liable for the harm they cause. These types of cases must be pursued promptly, skillfully, and aggressively, however. The insurance companies and law firms that represent careless truckers and trucking outfits have their own interests at heart, not those of the people who are injured or the families of those that are killed by negligent truckers.

The good news is that most trucking companies do have a reasonable amount of insurance coverage (which, unfortunately is not always the case with regular drivers, who may only carry the minimum coverage required by the state). Still, it is likely that the plaintiff will have to fight hard for the recovery that he or she deserves because insurance companies try to keep payouts as low as possible, even when policy limits are high.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who was hurt in a 2015 tractor trailer accident that he claimed was the result of the negligence and gross negligence of the defendants, a truck driver and the trucker’s employer. The wreck happened as the plaintiff was traveling behind the tractor trailer along a three-lane frontage road. According to the plaintiff, the truck driver attempted to execute a right turn by first steering the truck into the left-most lane and then crossing over the middle and right-hand lanes; as the truck crossed in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle, the plaintiff’s vehicle collided with the truck.

The case was tried to a jury, which found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $2.8 million in actual damages, including damages for certain future medical treatment. The defendants appealed, arguing that the jury charge should have included a question about the plaintiff’s negligence; that a mistrial should have been granted because of the mention of insurance during the trial; that certain expert testimony should have been excluded; that the jury should have been instructed regarding mitigation of damages; that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s award of damages; and/or that the amount of the damages award was excessive.

The Court’s Ruling on Appeal

The Texas Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial subject to remittitur. Although the court of appeals sided with the plaintiff on most of the issues (noting that the truck driver had admitted at trial that he was fully responsible for the crash), the court agreed with the defendants that the evidence was factually insufficient to support some $283,700 in damages awarded by the jury for the plaintiff’s future lumbar surgery expenses. The plaintiff was given the option of voluntarily remitting the $283,700 portion of his overall judgment or having the matter returned to the trial court for a new trial on both the issues of liability and damages (under Texas law, an appellate court does not have the authority to order a new trial solely on unliquidated damages in cases in which liability was contested by the parties, such as was the case here).

In so holding, the court of appeals found that the testimony at trial established that the plaintiff would only need lumbar spine surgery in the future if he continued to work at a certain job for many years to come; in the court’s view, it was not reasonable for the jury to conclude that there was a reasonable probability of this happening, given that the plaintiff’s return to work was done despite his doctor’s orders due to financial difficulties and that the jury had recognized this and awarded him substantial damages for future lost earning capacity. In other words, after awarding the plaintiff damages for wages that he would not be able to earn in the future due to his injuries, it was unreasonable for the jury to then award the plaintiff future medical expenses for an surgery that would only be necessary if he continued in his job.

Discuss Your Legal Rights with a Personal Injury Lawyer

Tractor trailer accidents can cause debilitating personal injuries and even wrongful death. If a negligent trucker has hurt your family by causing a crash in which you or a loved one was injured, you need to talk to an experienced east Texas truck accident attorney about the process of holding the trucker and the trucking company for whom he or she worked legally liable for damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To schedule an appointment to learn more about how we can help, please phone Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300. The consultation is free, and we earn our fee by getting a favorable settlement or judgment for you, so no attorney fee is required to be paid upfront to get your case started.

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