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Running a Stop Sign Obscured by Tree Branches in Texas

stop signIn a recent Texas car accident case, the court considered a personal injury lawsuit that arose when the defendant ran a stop sign and crashed into the plaintiff. The defendant was visiting his brother from the UK, and he ran a stop sign. His car hit the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff went to the ER, but the defendant walked away unscathed. The accident happened near a home.

The neighbors had a tree in their yard that the defendant told police blocked his view of the stop sign. The cop had not heard of any prior accidents at the intersection, and he’d never pulled anyone over for running that stop sign.

The plaintiff and his wife sued the defendant. The defendant designated the city and the property owners whose trees blocked the sign as responsible third parties. He argued that it was their negligent failure to trim the trees that was the legal cause of the accident.

The plaintiffs offered evidence from a custodian of records at the police department, who attested there were no vehicle crash incident reports involving that intersection for the five years before the collision. The officer would also testify that the city owned the stop sign and that either the city or the neighbors needed to be sure the stop sign wasn’t covered by a tree. A photograph showed tree branches covering the stop sign, and proof was also provided that the tree branches came from a tree in the neighbors’ yard.

Also at trial, a neurosurgeon testified that the plaintiff had needed surgery for neck and back injuries caused by the car accident, although the plaintiff also had degenerative conditions in his back. The surgeries were complicated due to the plaintiff weighing 325 pounds at the first surgery and more at the second. The plaintiff also testified he’d gotten a scar on his neck due to surgery. At the close of evidence, the plaintiff and his wife asked for a directed verdict as to the city and the neighbor’s third-party responsibility. They argued there wasn’t evidence that the city had notice of the tree obscuring the sign, and there was no evidence to support the neighbor’s duty to make sure the tree didn’t cover the sign. The motions were denied.

The jury found that the defendant, the city, and the neighbors all bore some responsibility for the accident and allocated fault among them.

The couple appealed, arguing it was an error to deny their request for a directed verdict before trial and the jury’s $0 award for past disfigurement cut against the weight and preponderance of the evidence.

The appellate court explained that whether there was a duty was a legal question for the court to determine based on the facts. The defendant argued he didn’t have to show evidence that the city had notice of the tree covering the sign. The appellate court explained that to be entitled to take the matter before the jury so that the jury could allocate responsibility to any party designated as a responsible third party, the plaintiff needed to give enough evidence showing the city contributed to the plaintiff’s harm.

In this case, the appellate court found there was enough evidence to raise a factual question about whether the condition had lasted so long that the city, had it acted reasonably, should have found it. The appellate court also found that although the neighbors didn’t own the stop sign or land immediately touching the street, the evidence showed they owned the property where the tree was located, and the tree did obscure the stop sign. It explained that a property owner who has a tree is responsible for the duty of owners or occupiers of land abutting a road when the tree is in a position that could endanger others on the road.

Finally, the appellate court explained that whether to award damages for disfigurement — something that impairs or deforms the appearance or beauty of a person — was within the jury’s discretion. The plaintiffs argued that they’d presented undisputed evidence of the husband’s disfigurement and weight gain due to surgery. The appellate court found that the surgery had resulted in a scar, but the neurosurgeon had also testified to his degenerative condition. The jury had the discretion to decide only some of the injuries were caused by the defendant’s conduct. In this case, there was conflicting evidence about the severity of the scars and weight gain, and the jury could choose which version of the evidence to believe.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are injured on somebody else’s property, you should consult a Texas attorney with experience in premises liability cases to seek a favorable outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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