Trial Court Was Wrong to Deny Directed Verdict to Plaintiff in Texas Car Accident Case

A Texas car accident case is usually pursued under a legal theory known as “negligence.” To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish four basic elements: duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation.

In the legal sense, a “duty” arises when one person has a responsibility to another to act in particular manner, usually established by law. For example, drivers are under a duty to keep a proper lookout for one another, so as to avoid an accident if possible. When someone fails in his or her duty, a “breach” is said to occur.

If harm comes to the person to whom the duty was owed, that person has “damages.” Damages include things like pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages caused by personal injury. If the victim’s damages were proximately caused by the defendant’s breach of duty, the defendant can be held liable for payment of monetary compensation to the plaintiff for his or her damages.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who allegedly suffered personal injuries in a two-vehicle accident that occurred when the defendant backed into his vehicle as the two were caught in a traffic jam caused by an (unrelated) accident. The case proceeded to a jury trial, during which the defendant admitted that the accident “was totally his fault” but argued that “fault” was different from “negligence.” The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict on the issue of liability, and the case was submitted to the jury. The jury answered “no” when asked whether the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the incident at issue. No damages were awarded, and the trial court entered a take-nothing verdict, from which the plaintiff appealed.

The Decision of the Court of Appeals

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas reversed, holding that no reasonable factfinder could have found that the defendant could not, in the exercise of ordinary care, have seen the plaintiff’s vehicle behind him when he chose to back up rather than wait out the traffic jam in front of him. Because the plaintiff had proven that the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the accident, the reviewing court held that it was error for the lower tribunal to deny the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict. Because the jury answered “no” to the question of the defendant’s liability, the trial court’s error in denying the plaintiff’s motion was not “harmless error,” in the court’s opinion.

As for the proper remedy on remand given its ruling on the directed verdict issue, the court opined that the proper course was to reverse the trial court’s decision and remand the case for a new trial. (Because the defendant had contested liability in his answer, at trial, and on appeal, the court held that it could not remand for a separate trial solely on damages due to the provisions of Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 44.1(b).)

Have a Lawyer Review Your East Texas Car Accident Claim

While seeking medical treatment is, of course, of paramount importance following a motor vehicle collision, it is also very important to consult a legal professional about the process of holding the negligent driver liable for medical bills, lost income, and other losses caused by the auto accident. At Earl Drott Law, we have over 30 years of experience in handling Texas car accident cases. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 903-531-9300.