Published on:

Judges who preside over Texas personal injury cases have an immense amount of influence over the outcome of the case. While the judge is not usually the one who makes the ultimate determination regarding a defendant’s liability (that issue is reserved for the jury), judges make all pre-trial and evidentiary rulings that come up throughout the trial. Thus, it has been said that a judge creates the “landscape” in which a case is brought.

Of course, judges are elected officials who, at the end of the day, are human and can make mistakes. For this reason, the Texas court system allows a party who believes that a judge made a legal error during the proceedings to appeal the issue to a higher court. Typically, appellate courts will only review the issues that are raised on appeal, and will only hear claims that comply with the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Appellate courts are designed to resolve conflicts between trial courts and to correct incorrect applications of the law. For example, if a court in Dallas is resolving an issue of state law differently than a court in San Antonio, an appellate court may decide to hear a case that presents the issue to clarify how the law should be interpreted. Also, appellate courts can reverse incorrect rulings that were made by trial judges.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case illustrating the importance of expert testimony. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether a subsequent report issued by the plaintiff’s expert was admissible. Ultimately, the court concluded that the report was properly excluded, and affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant manufacturer.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed in a single-vehicle car accident after his Jeep Wrangler swerved off the road and into a concrete pillar. There was no known cause for the accident, and investigators noticed that the grass under the Jeep was charred, as though there had been a fire. A few days after the crash, the manufacturer issued a recall of the transmission oil controller (TOC). Evidently, a defective TOC could result in the undercarriage of a vehicle catching fire.

The plaintiff’s surviving loved ones filed a Texas product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. In support of their claim, they consulted with an expert. However, after reviewing the data, the expert could not definitively state that the recall defect caused the fire. After learning of the expert’s opinion, the plaintiffs moved for additional discovery related to Jeep fires that were caused by other defects. After reviewing this data, the plaintiff’s expert submitted an amended report, concluding that a defective TOC caused the fire.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The Texas Supreme Court recently issued a decision concerning what plaintiffs must prove in order to establish a claim of medical negligence in emergency medical care settings.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a baby was born at a hospital in Denton, Texas. The mother was induced at 39 weeks, and while the baby was being born, the obstetrician used forceps to deliver the baby’s head, but the baby’s shoulder became stuck. The doctor tried different maneuvers but eventually reached into the birth canal and pulled on the baby’s arm, dislodging his shoulder. The baby was delivered, but suffered injuries to the nerves running through his shoulder.

The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice claim against the doctor alleging that he negligently maneuvered the baby’s body while he was being born, resulting in the baby’s shoulder becoming dislodged. The doctor argued that a provision of emergency medical care applied in this case, and that the plaintiffs had to prove he acted with willful and wanton negligence.

Continue reading →

Published on:

When a Texas employee is injured on the job, the injured employee can pursue temporary or permanent benefits under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act. Workers’ compensation benefits can provide an injured employee benefits to cover their medical expenses as well as a portion of their income. Notably, workers’ compensation claimants do not need to establish that their employer was negligent to obtain benefits. However, workers’ compensation claimants are not eligible for compensation based on emotional pain and suffering.

Another option an injured employee has is to file a Texas personal injury lawsuit. Unlike workers’ compensation claims, successful plaintiffs in Texas personal injury lawsuits can obtain compensation for emotional damages. However, because a workers’ compensation claim is generally an injured employee’s only remedy against their employer, a personal injury case will typically only be available if a third party’s negligence caused the accident.

That being said, lawmakers have determined that workers in specific industries should be able to pursue personal injury claims against their employers. For example, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) allows railroad workers to pursue claims for compensation against their employers. Similarly, the Jones Act permits seamen to file a personal injury case against their employer. However, to recover under FELA or the Jones Act, a worker must show that the employer was negligent. A recent federal appellate case discusses an employee’s case brought under the Jones Act.

Continue reading →

Published on:

When someone is involved in a serious Texas workplace accident, they may have several options when it comes to seeking compensation for their injuries. In general, a Texas employee who is injured on the job can pursue a Texas workers’ compensation claim. Under the Texas workers’ compensation program, an injured employee can pursue a claim for workers’ compensation regardless of fault. However, the major problem with workers’ compensation claims is that the type and amount of damages available are limited.

Generally speaking, if an employer has obtained workers’ compensation insurance, then a workers’ compensation claim is an injured employee’s only recourse against an employer. However, unlike most states, Texas does not require employers to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. If an employer is a “non-subscriber” to the workers’ compensation program, a plaintiff can pursue a traditional negligence action against the employee. In these situations, an employee’s damages will not be limited as they would in a workers’ compensation case.

As mentioned above, Texas workers’ compensation cases can proceed absent a finding of fault against an employer (even if the employee was partly responsible for their own injuries). However, some workplace accidents are the result of another party’s negligent conduct. In these situations, an injured employee may be able to pursue a Texas third-party liability claim against the negligent party.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas truck accident case requiring the court to determine if the lower court properly excluded evidence of the plaintiff’s mental health diagnoses. Ultimately, the court concluded that such evidence was relevant and that the probative value of the evidence outweighed any potential prejudice caused by the admission of the evidence. Thus, the court reversed the jury’s verdict.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, a pedestrian was killed after she was run over by a semi-truck that was in the process of making a turn. Evidently, the truck was negotiating a tight corner that was complicated by the presence of another motorist on the road. As the truck driver made the turn, the side of the truck clipped the pedestrian, knocking her to the ground. The truck’s rear tires then ran over the pedestrian, killing her instantly.

The pedestrian’s family members filed a Texas wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and his employer. As a part of their defense, the defendants intended on introducing evidence that the pedestrian suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and had alcohol, cocaine, and oxycodone in her blood at the time of her death. The plaintiffs objected to the admission of the evidence and the trial court precluded its admission, finding that it was relevant but that any probative value was outweighed by potential prejudice. The defendants appealed.

Continue reading →

Published on:

In a recent case, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a Texas personal injury claim against Apple. The plaintiff alleged that a driver’s “neurobiological response” to a text message notification caused a fatal car crash.

According to the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint, a text message came in that the at-fault driver looked at while driving on the highway. When the driver received the text message, she looked down at her phone to read the message. In doing so, she averted her eyes from the road. When she looked back up at the road, it was too late, and her car crashed into another car, which had two adults and a child inside. The two adults were killed and the child was seriously injured.

The victims’ family sued Apple, the manufacturer of the phone, claiming that Apple was liable under the theories of negligence and products liability. The plaintiffs claimed that, although Apple was aware of the dangers of texting while driving and had obtained a patent for a lock-out mechanism for texting while driving, the company did not put the lock-out mechanism in any version of the at-fault driver’s phone. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was liable because the receiving of text messages triggers “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior.” The plaintiffs also claimed that Apple failed to warn customers about the dangers of texting while driving. Apple filed a motion to dismiss, and a federal court granted the motion. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Continue reading →

Published on:

In a medical malpractice case before the Supreme Court of Texas, the court had to decide whether an expert’s testimony was conclusory and if it could support a decision in the plaintiff’s favor. Ultimately, the court concluded that the expert’s opinion was not conclusory because it was supported by the physical evidence as well as the expert’s own experience in the field.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a father took his children out, and in the parking of a gas station, he became disoriented and his speech was slurred. An ambulance took him to a Texas hospital where he was evaluated by an emergency room physician. He reported that he’d had three similar episodes in the past few months, but that this episode was more severe. After undergoing an MRI, doctors determined that the father had compensated obstructive hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis, and that he would need a shunt inserted in his brain the following day. Doctors referred him to a neurosurgeon to determine how to proceed. The father left the hospital and saw the neurosurgeon the following day.

Evidently, the neurosurgeon saw the father the following day, but instead of inserting a shunt, the neurosurgeon put a ventricular drain in his brain to monitor his intracranial pressure. Less than two weeks later, the father had another episode, and informed the neurologist at the hospital. The neurologist performed additional tests, which showed that the aqueductal stenosis had worsened. The neurologist did not relay the information to the neurosurgeon. The plaintiff died later that year due to the aqueductal stenosis.

Continue reading →

Published on:

In Texas, drunk driving is taken seriously by lawmakers, police, and prosecutors. Yet, despite the decades-long efforts of government agencies and non-profit organizations, drunk driving is still a major problem in Texas. Indeed, each year there are approximately 17,000 Texas DUI accidents, claiming the lives of nearly 1,000 Texans annually.

While a Texas drunk driver is subject to criminal penalties, they can also be held accountable for their actions through a Texas personal injury lawsuit. To establish that a drunk driver is responsible for an accident victim’s injuries, the accident victim must be able to prove the four elements of a Texas negligence lawsuit: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Typically, in a lawsuit arising from a Texas drunk driving accident, the elements of duty and breach are often established through the doctrine of negligence per se. Negligence per se is, in essence, a shortcut that lawmakers allow certain accident victims to take when developing their claim. When the elements of negligence per se are met, the defendant is found to have been legally negligent. This satisfies both the duty and breach elements of a negligence claim.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas truck accident requiring the court to determine if the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff should be reversed based on inadmissible expert testimony from a state trooper. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trial court correctly admitted the trooper’s testimony; however, the court remanded the case on an unrelated issue so that the plaintiff’s damages could be recalculated.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a truck driver who was involved in a serious Texas truck accident when a truck traveling in the opposite direction crossed over the center median and crashed head-on into the plaintiff’s truck. The collision caused a massive explosion, resulting in the plaintiff being severely burned. The driver of the out-of-control truck died in the accident. The plaintiff proceeded with a personal injury claim against the company that hired the truck driver to transport the load he was carrying at the time of the accident.

At trial, the plaintiff presented testimony from the state trooper who first responded to the scene. Apparently, the trooper was behind the at-fault truck driver and saw the explosion from a distance. The trooper testified regarding his on-scene investigation immediately after the accident. Among the issues the trooper mentioned were the road conditions, the fact that the truck driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash, and his belief that the truck had hydroplaned causing the driver to lose control. The trooper could not estimate how much the truck weighed or how fast it was traveling.

Continue reading →