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Tractor-Trailer Accident in Texas

In CMH Set and Finish, Inc. v. Taylor, a defendant appealed a Texas court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff on personal injury and property damage claims. The defendant was a parent corporation of multiple entities, one of which manufactured cabinets. It owned a warehouse where lumber was cut to match certain manufacturing specifications, and this lumber was towed to plants.

In 2010, the company asked one of its truck drivers to take a trailer of lumber from a warehouse to a manufacturing facility. The driver used a flashlight to look at her assigned truck and trailer, and then she left for the plant. Two hours into the drive, two of the wheel-and-tire assemblies (each about 200 pounds) slid from the left side of the trailer’s rear axle and crashed into the plaintiff’s pickup truck.

The plaintiff sued the company and the driver, claiming their negligence was the cause of the accident. He also sued his insurer for benefits under his uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. He filed in Grayson County and claimed that this venue was appropriate under the Texas Insurance Code. The company and driver filed motions to transfer the case to another venue on the grounds that it should be brought in Collin County, where the accident took place. The trial court denied their motions.

At trial, the company defended on the grounds that if the accident was caused by lug nuts on the wheel and tire assemblies that were improperly torqued, the proximate (legal) cause of the accident was the installation of those lug nuts. The third party who’d installed them was unknown. The company asked that the charge include instructions on sole proximate cause, but this request was refused. The jury found that the company was negligent and had complete fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. The company asked for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and other relief. All of these motions were denied, and the company appealed.

The company argued three things on appeal. First, it argued there was insufficient evidence on the element of causation. Second, it argued that since it had established it didn’t perform the work that caused the accident, someone not a party to the suit was the sole legal cause of the accident. Third, it appealed the court’s decision to deny its request for a change of venue.

On the causation issue, the court explained that causation must be a cause-in-fact and foreseeable. The former requires a plaintiff to show the defendant’s act was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm and that but for the act, the harm wouldn’t have occurred. Foreseeability requires only that the injury be of the type that can reasonably be anticipated, and the injured party was so situated that harm to him (or another party similarly situated) should reasonably have been foreseen. On this point, someone who’d repaired the trailer after the accident said that he could tell the lug nuts came off because they weren’t tightened or torqued properly.

The repairman also testified that the driver told him she’d noticed a flat tire on the trailer before leaving and that dispatch had told her it would be repaired, and she couldn’t leave until after that. He testified he didn’t know who did the repair, but it was completed before she left. A corporate representative of the company testified that the company didn’t have written policies or procedures about safety or pre-trip inspections by truck drivers. He also admitted that the company was responsible for maintaining the tractor-trailer.

The appellate court explained that a jury could reasonably believe the testimony that the trailer had a flat tire and that she’d had it repaired surreptitiously by a third party because there was nobody else to do it. (The driver had testified otherwise.) The court determined the evidence was legally sufficient.

The appellate court also explained that there can be more than one legal cause of an accident, but if an act or omission of a non-party is the “sole proximate cause,” no act or omission by a party can be the legal cause. The appellate court explained that the fact the defendant couldn’t identify who had serviced the vehicle didn’t support the conclusion that the unidentified individual or company bore sole responsibility for the accident.

Finally, the appellate court considered whether the case should have been transferred to another venue. At the lower level, the defendants had delayed in obtaining a hearing. The appellate court concluded that either the venue motion was improper, or the venue objection was waived by waiting 18 months to seek a hearing and agreeing to a trial date without making the agreement subject to an objection. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are hurt in a truck 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 case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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