Texas Court of Appeals Says Jury Should Have Been Asked to Assign Percentage of Responsibility to Parties in Intersection Car Crash Case

Even in a “simple” east Texas car accident case in which one driver seeks monetary compensation from another motorist whose negligence obviously caused the crash, things can get complicated.Legal News Gavel

This is all the more so when two drivers blame each other for an automobile accident. In such a situation, it is very important that the jury be charged appropriately with regard to the assignment of fault, assuming that the evidence warrants such a charge.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate case (Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas; No. 04-17-00369-CV), the original plaintiff was a man who was hurt in an automobile accident in September 2013. He sued both the driver of the car in which he was riding and the city with whom the other driver was employed at the time of the crash. According to the original plaintiff, both drivers’ negligence contributed to the wreck, and the city was vicariously liable for its employee’s negligence; the respective drivers, however, each claimed that they had the green light at the intersection where the collision occurred.

The driver of the car in which the original plaintiff was riding filed a cross-claim against the city, alleging that he, too, was injured in the accident and that the city’s employee was negligent because he failed to yield the right of way as required by law. After the original plaintiff settled his claim against the driver of the car in which he was riding and the city, the case proceeded to trial, with the driver of the car in which the original plaintiff was riding seeking compensatory damages from the defendant city.

The city requested that the trial court judge require the jury to assign a percentage of responsibility to both it and the driver, but the judge instead asked the jury to decide if the city’s negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. The jury answered in the affirmative and awarded the driver damages. The city appealed.

The Holding of the Court

The court of appeals reversed and remanded. Since the city’s pleadings put the driver of the car in which the original plaintiff was riding on fair notice of its allegation that the driver’s negligence caused or contributed to the accident, the appellate court ruled that the lower tribunal had abused its discretion in refusing to submit a proportionate responsibility question to the jury. In so holding, the appellate court rejected the driver’s contention that, since the city phrased its answer to his cross claim with language averring that “the accident was the sole and proximate cause of negligence by the other parties to this suit,” the issue of contributory negligence had not been properly raised. On remand, the trial court was instructed to conduct a new trial, with the proper instructions to the jury.

Experienced East Texas Injury Lawyer

At Earl Drott Law in Tyler, we have more than 30 years of experience handling car accident cases. To put our skill and experience to work in your east Texas car accident case, call us at 903-531-9300 and request a free case review. There’s no obligation, and the appointment is free.

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