A recent Texas appellate case arose from a truck accident. The defendant testified that, on the accident date, he was driving in the left lane. It was rush hour, and following behind two other vehicles, he was coming to a construction zone. Since he hadn’t considered the recommended following distance, there was no room for other cars and trucks to merge in front of him. An 18-wheeler in front of the two vehicles he was following stopped, and traffic immediately stopped. The traffic was tight, such that driving into the right lane wasn’t possible. The two vehicles turned onto a grassy median, and the defendant followed them.
Later, the truck driver would testify that what happened was so fast, he wasn’t sure why he left the road instead of simply stopping. He veered off because he assumed something was in front of them on the road, and he didn’t want to risk touching the back of the truck. He hit the brakes as he left the road, and he believed he had to do so to avoid a collision. He didn’t look left before following, and he was going at the same rate as the cars around him.
When he moved left, he did see the plaintiff’s motorcycle located about a car behind him in his mirror. He believed that the motorcycle was moving fast on the shoulder and that it was illegal to use the shoulder. The motorcyclist drove onto the grass and lost control of his bike. The bike hit the defendant’s truck. The defendant didn’t think the back of his truck had left the shoulder yet, and he claimed that the plaintiff wasn’t in his path when he went left.
The motorcyclist testified he was in the far right lane and merged into the middle lane when he saw the traffic cones had narrowed three lanes into two. He was almost hit when merging, so he went into the left lane. He saw brake lights and two vehicles moving fast behind him. He couldn’t see around a vehicle in front of him, and he was fearful of being struck in the congested traffic, so he moved onto the grassy median. He was going about 40 mph and passing stopped traffic. He continued to slow and was about 30 feet from the defendant when the defendant drove his truck onto the median.
At trial, he testified that he hadn’t used the median to travel as far as he could before getting back on the road, even though he’d testified the opposite at deposition. Instead, he claimed that he planned to drive in the median until he could safely get back on the road and that he had to do what he did because it was an emergency.
He testified he accepted 10-15% of the responsibility but was not prepared when he got onto the median because he thought he was safe. If he’d been on guard, he would have braked when he saw the truck getting onto the median.
The defendant totally denied responsibility and also testified that the officer who came to the scene said the motorcyclist was at fault for using a faulty evasive action and driving too closely.
The jury found that only the plaintiff’s actions were the legal cause of the accident and awarded him nothing in damages. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the jury’s decision.
The defendant argued that the jury’s negligence finding was a harmless error because the plaintiff didn’t challenge the jury’s zero damages finding on appeal. The appellate court agreed, noting that when someone appeals, they need to attack any independent grounds that support a complained-of ruling.
In this case, the jury was asked how much money would fairly compensate the plaintiff for his damages. The jury didn’t find he had any damages, and the plaintiff didn’t challenge this finding. The appellate court held that the unchallenged zero damages finding permitted the trial court to enter a take nothing judgment on the negligence cause of action. Any mistake made by the jury in finding the defendant not negligent was therefore harmless.
If you are hurt in a motorcycle accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.
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