Individual and businesses who are injured/sustain damages in civil cases have unfortunately seen their verdicts rendered by juries overturned an astonishing 79% of the time by the Texas Supreme Court in the past 10 years!
As a personal injury lawyer, I keep track of cases that affect the rights of my clients. Today, in one of five decisions issued, the Texas Supreme Court actually upheld a plaintiff’s verdict. Of course, it had to, since all parties had stipulated that the plaintiff driving her vehicle was not liable for the collision in question.
In Juana Arvizu, et al. v. Estate of George Puckett, the issue presented was
whether an appeals court had erred by holding that the jury findings determining vicarious liability presented a fatal conflict that required a new trial.
The seriously injured plaintiffs, a mother and her son, were hurt when the truck driven by a man named Cantu ran a red light outside of Houston and crashed into their vehicle. A man named Puckett, who died after the collision, owned an auto auction business called Puckett Auto Sales (PAS). The truck was owned by the Montgomery County Auto Auction (MCAA). PAS bought and sold cars at MCAA, which had agreed to return unsold cars to PAS. The parties agreed that Cantu was negligent in causing the collision but an issue arose as to whether Cantu was the employee of MCAA or PAS. The jury found that Cantu was an employee of MCAA but that he was also transporting the truck for PAS’s benefit as its agent and returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $1.2 million. The trial court issued judgment against MCAA, Puckett and Cantu, jointly and severally. PAS appealed. The court of appeals ruled that the jury could not logically find that MCAA and PAS simultaneously controlled Cantu’s conduct and remanded the case for a new trial.
On appeal, the supreme court held that conflicting findings did not necessarily require a judgment different from what the trial court had rendered. To satisfy the requirement set forth in the leading case of Little Rock Furniture Mfg. Co. v. Dunn test (222 S.W.2d at 991), the party claiming the conflict must show that one of the conflicting findings necessarily requires the entry of a judgment different from that which the court has entered. The court ruled Cantu worked for MCAA, that MCAA worked for PAS, PAS controlled the details of the mission, and that the motor vehicle collision occurred during the business transaction. Therefore, Cantu and PAS acted in a subagency relationship, so PAS was vicariously liable. It also found that the same verdict would have been reached even if the jury answers had differed.