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Single-Vehicle Accident in Texas

In Homman v. Kugler, a husband and wife involved in a single-vehicle accident sued a retail outlet and its owner, who was also the man who loaded their trailer. The plaintiff worked for David’s Patio, and on the day of the accident, he was driving a pickup and trailer for the defendant retail outlet to pick up angle irons. The owner of the retail outlet used a forklift to put the loan on the trailer. The plaintiff used only a single strap to secure the load and then drove back to his company.

The plaintiff started to get onto the freeway, but the trailer began swaying, pushed forward, and lifted the back wheels of the pickup. The pickup spun, balancing on two wheels on its side, and then the trailer broke off and rolled away. The pickup sat back down on its four wheels. The plaintiff wasn’t cited for the accident and did not see a doctor right away.

He went back home feeling sore. The next day, when he woke, he felt sore from his upper buttocks to his skull. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with herniated and bulging discs. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and epidural steroid injections. He was also told he needed fusion surgery on his lower back, but he hadn’t gotten this surgery at the time of trial.

The plaintiffs sued the retail outlet and its owner for negligent loading of the trailer and failure to notify them of the hazard created by a poorly loaded trailer. The defendants argued that it was the plaintiff’s negligence that caused the accident and designated his employer as a responsible third party for failure to train the plaintiff.

The jury found in favor of the defendants, assigning 100% of the fault for the accident to the plaintiff. The jury also found that the plaintiff didn’t suffer damages due to the accident. The plaintiff appealed. He argued that he had established some damages as a matter of law, and he argued that the jury’s findings on liability were insufficient.

The court explained that in order to challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence, a plaintiff can preserve an issue for appeal by filing a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, moving for a directed verdict, moving to disregard the jury’s answer, moving for a new trial, or objecting to the submission of an issue to the jury. The plaintiff argued that he preserved his challenge to the jury’s zero damages finding by moving for a new trial.

The court explained that the request to set aside the jury’s verdict was based on the plaintiff’s arguments about the defendant’s negligence and the lack of control that the plaintiff exercised in the loading. The plaintiff had not mentioned in an argument that damages were established as a matter of law, nor did he list findings for damages. The court ruled that the plaintiff had waived his evidentiary challenge to the damages issue. Since there was a finding of no damages, the question of liability was immaterial.

The plaintiff also argued that the trial court shouldn’t have admitted evidence of the plaintiff’s marijuana use or workers’ compensation benefits. The court explained that for the plaintiff to show that the evidence had been admitted incorrectly, the plaintiff would have to show:  (1) the incorrectly admitted evidence was controlling on an issue that would dispose of the case and wasn’t cumulative; and (2) the error resulted in an improper judgment. The defendants had moved to introduce evidence of the plaintiff’s prior drug use as relevant to the question of mental anguish damages. The plaintiff had objected. The court allowed the evidence to be admitted solely on the question of mental anguish.

The appellate court explained that under Texas Rule of Evidence 402, relevant evidence is admissible. Evidence is relevant under Texas Rule of Evidence 401 if it (1) tends to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and (2) the fact is of consequence in determining the action. In this case, the drug use was relevant as an alternative source of mental anguish. The appellate confirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you are hurt in a single-vehicle accident caused by someone else, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your automobile accident case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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