Texas Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Case Alleging a Negligent Failure to Repair a Motorcycle Caused a Fatal Accident

In an east Texas motorcycle accident, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of the accident. This requires proof of four elements:  duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. If any of these elements is missing, the plaintiff cannot recover a monetary judgment against the defendant.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case (No. 04-16-00712-CV; Fourth Court of Appeals of Texas), the plaintiffs were the parents of a man who died after he lost control of his motorcycle in December 2013. During the accident, the decedent was thrown off his cycle and hit by three separate vehicles. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant motorcycle repair shop, alleging that the decedent lost control of the motorcycle because the defendant failed to properly repair the bike when the decedent took it in for repairs a few weeks before the accident.

According to the plaintiffs, the decedent had previously complained that he had lost control of the motorcycle at a stop light and had damaged it; they further averred that the work order for the repairs expressed the decedent’s concern that the front brake might be locking up. Although the police report stated that the reason for the crash that killed the decedent was “unknown,” the plaintiffs’ theory of liability was that the front brake had locked up and caused the accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant; the plaintiffs sought appellate review.

Decision of the Court

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiffs contended on appeal that the trial court should not have granted summary judgment on their claim that the defendant negligently failed to repair the decedent’s motorcycle and that negligence could be inferred under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The appellate court noted that the plaintiffs had retained an expert witness who supported their claim that the motorcycle had locked up, causing the crash, but the court went on to note that the plaintiffs’ expert had not ruled out operator error as a possible cause of the brake locking up. Since the expert failed to rule out operator error, the court found that his opinion that the defendant’s failure to repair the front brake was the cause of the accident was speculative and conclusory; as a result, it amounted to “no evidence of causation,” according to the court.

With regard to the plaintiffs’ res ipsa loquitur argument, the court noted that this rule of evidence could be used to infer negligence based on the mere fact that an accident happened, but it noted that the rule only applies:  1) if the character of the accident was such that it would not ordinarily have occurred in the absence of negligence, and (2) if the instrumentality that caused the injury was shown to have been under the management and control of the alleged wrongdoer. Since the plaintiffs’ expert witness did not rule out operator error as a possible cause of the crash, the doctrine was not applicable.

An Experienced East Texas Motor Vehicle Accident Attorney

Car accidents, truck wrecks, and motorcycle collisions cause many serious injuries and wrongful deaths in Tyler, Smith County, and elsewhere in east Texas. When a person who is hurt (or when a family who has lost a loved one in a fatal accident) can prove all four of the elements of negligence – duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages – substantial compensation may be awarded. Proving negligence can be difficult, but an experienced trial attorney may be able to help you investigate the accident and build a case of liability. For a free review of your east Texas motorcycle accident case, call Earl Drott Law today at 903-531-9300.

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