Texas Court Partially Affirms Default Judgment on Liability in Car Wreck Case but Reverses on Damages Award – Reed v. Vance

The plaintiff in a negligence lawsuit, such as one arising from a motor vehicle collision, must prove four things (each by a preponderance of the evidence) in order to be successful:  duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Typically, both the plaintiff and the defendant are represented by counsel when the plaintiff’s evidence of each of these elements is given, but this is not always so.

Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff who has filed a complaint to which there has been no answer in the time allotted by law may move the court for a judgment based on the plaintiff’s side of the case only. The rules further provide that a judge may enter a default judgment if he or she finds that the plaintiff has perfected service of process on the defendant and that the plaintiff has provided satisfactory evidence of his or her damages.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Reed v. Vance, an injured woman sued a motorist whom she alleged struck her vehicle three times. She also sued the motorist’s employer on a theory of respondeat superior, a legal doctrine under which an employer is liable for the careless acts of an employee, if such acts were part of the employment.

According to the injured woman, the accident happened because of the motorist’s negligence and gross negligence. Specifically, she alleged that the motorist failed to turn his vehicle to avoid a collision, failed to maintain a reasonable distance between the vehicles, and failed to apply his brakes in a timely manner.

Neither the motorist nor the employer filed an answer to the woman’s complaint, so she moved for a default judgment. The trial court ruled in her favor, awarding her $21,390 in compensatory damages and $60,000 in exemplary damages. The judgment held the motorist and the employer jointly and severally liable for the damages rendered.

Decision of the Texas Court of Appeals

On appeal by the motorist and the employer, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court first found that both defendants were properly served, despite their contentions to the contrary. The trial court’s judgment of liability for negligence and gross negligence against the motorist was therefore valid.

However, the court agreed with the defendants that the record did not contain sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s award of actual damages or exemplary damages, nor was the trial court correct in ruling that the employer was liable for the gross negligence of the motorist under the circumstances (although the motorist would be liable for such damages, if the injured woman prevailed on remand).

To Talk to an East Texas Trial Lawyer About Your Case

If you have been hurt in a car wreck, you need dependable representation. To get started on your case, call east Texas car accident attorney Earl Drott at (903) 531-9300. Mr. Drott is board certified in personal injury law and has been helping injured Texans pursue maximum recovery in motor vehicle collisions for almost three decades. Our offices are located in Tyler. We serve all of east Texas.

Related Blog Posts:

Texas Supreme Court Reviews Evidence of Causation in Truck Accident Case

Texas State Court, and Consequently Federal Court After Removal, Lacked Jurisdiction in Negligence Case Involving Federal Employee – Colonial County Mutual Insurance Company v. United States

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