Articles Posted in Trials

Honda-at-sceneA Dallas jury just awarded a catastrophically injured couple a jaw-dropping $42 million.

Matthew and Marcia Seebachan were driving to visit her grandmother near Austin a few days before Christmas in 2013. Suddenly a truck hydroplaned in a rain storm and collided into their small car. But a routine collision became a catastrophe when the roof of their Honda Fit collapsed and crushed them. Then shards of metal punctured their gas tank and the car burst into flames. The doors would not open and they were locked in an inferno.

Fortunately a passing motorist broke the glass and rescued the couple, but not before Matthew suffered horrifying third degree burns and he and Marcia sustained shattering injuries and extreme mental trauma. Medical bills were over one million dollars and lost wages were enormous.

How could this nightmare happen?

Investigators discovered that John Eagle Collision Center had only glued the roof in place after a previous hail storm — not welded it back in the 104 places required by Honda’s specifications and industry standards.

The couple filed suit.  Pretrial discovery, including the deposition answers of Eagle’s body shop manager admitting fault, were especially damning.

A doctor testified that that they should have only sustained minor injuries, bolstered by the fact that the driver and occupants of the truck were not hurt.

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unnamedRequests for admissions of facts (RFAs) are designed to streamline the admission of evidence at trial. They are an effective and cost-effective means to achieve the pretrial discovery. Now parties may stop using RFAs, as a decision issued today dramatically eased their use against noncomplying parties.

In Terry Swanson v. State of Texas and County of Travis, a female process server was horribly mauled by six dogs as she attempted to serve papers and was killed. The owner was sued sos the dogs could be euthanatized, as required by state law. After the defendant filed incomplete responses to the RFAs six days late, the state and county filed a motion for summary judgment based upon his failure to respond by the deadline.

However Swanson claimed that (1) the caretaker of the dogs, the only person who could admit or deny the facts, had been injured and (2) his attorney practiced criminal defense and was not familiar with the civil rules. The trial court rejected these flimsy excuses, ordered that all the RFAs had been admitted, and granted summary judgment.

The appellate court reversed, ruling that the trial court abused its discretion in reaching its conclusion. The court held that even a slight excuse will suffice, especially if delay or prejudice to the opposing party will not result. Otherwise, the court found that honest mistakes could lead to inequitable results.

What is a Request for Admission?

Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedures, one party may serve the other with up to 15 written questions focused on matters that are not in dispute. The questions allow the parties to establish basic facts without having to present evidence and testimony in a formal court proceeding. Continue reading

Have you received a call from someone who threatens you with going to jail for not showing updreamstime_xs_29662892-300x199-300x199 for jury service? He says he’s from the U.S. Marshall’s Office, gives his badge number, mentions the name of the judge who told him to call you, and even has the Tarrant or Dallas Courthouse listed on caller ID. The victim is told he must pay a huge fine immediately and some people do. One woman paid the fraudsters $2,000. That’s terrible to hear. But it’s a scam.

I’ve been a personal injury attorney in Texas for 36 years and have tremendous respect for our civil justice system and the jurors who are the backbone of this essential process. This rip-off angers me.

If you do receive one of these calls, report the incident to the U.S. Marshals Service to stop these horrible scammers from victimizing anybody else.

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Image from WFAA

 

People who call for an Uber and get into a Honda van are sometimes making a tragic mistake.

A 24-year-old college student from University Park is now a quadriplegic due to a horrific crash in Dallas a year ago.

Sarah Milburn was home from a break from Oklahoma State University. She was about to graduate and start a new job and her future was bright. After celebrating with friends in Uptown, instead of driving, they sensibly called Uber. Sarah buckled her seat belt, even though she sat in the third row of the Honda Odyssey.

She thought that she had done the right thing. But she couldn’t possibly know that Uber had failed to vet its driver. Or that the van she sat in was defectively designed. Or that she would nearly die.

The Uber driver, Anan Yusufzai, sped through a red light at the busy intersection of McKinney and Fitzhugh Avenues and was T-boned by a Ford 150 pickup truck. The van flipped upside down and Sarah dangled precariously upside down. She was cut out and rushed to the ICU at Baylor University Medical Center. Tragically, the crash broke broke her spinal cord.  Continue reading

dreamstime_xs_71193203If you were injured in a car wreck and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, his insurance company lawyer will take your deposition.

What is a deposition?

It is an important part of the pretrial discovery process where sworn testimony from potential witnesses is recorded. The intense questioning is designed to find out what you as well as the other driver and others who will testify know and how witnesses will come across to the jury.

As a personal injury lawyer for the past 36 years, I have represented clients during countless depositions and wanted to provide guidance if you are involved in the litigation process or are considering filing a lawsuit.
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dreamstime_xs_65349897About 99% of lawsuits are settled before trial. One of the most effective ways for an injured person to recover the money he wants is through the mediation process.

I’ve been representing victims of automobile and truck accidents for the past 36 years and successfully mediated a major lawsuit several weeks ago. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a process by which the parties involved in the lawsuit attempt to come to an out of court agreement. It takes place in a neutral site — usually the mediator’s office — and is far less formal than a trial. Every case is required in Texas to go to mediation.

It is usually conducted after all discovery of facts has been completed and within a month or two of the trial date, but in certain cases it can be effectively used before a lawsuit is filed. It can take several hours, all day, and even several days. Continue reading

Priscilla-davis-Cullen-DavisThe sensational trials of Cullen Davis were the talk of Texas 40 years ago. The 42 year-old Fort Worth oil baron was accused of murdering his estranged wife’s boyfriend and her 12 year-old daughter and shooting his wild wife. He was acquitted of the heinous crimes and later of trying to kill their divorce attorney after three trials after clever defense work by Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.

I worked for the Dallas law firm that also defended him while I was a student at SMU Law School in the late 70’s.

Now 82, Davis again stood before a jury — this time for an automobile accident. Davis crashed a car in 2013 on South Collins in Arlington. While he claimed he was travelling 20 mph when he hit car, the woman he hit described a worse collision that caused her painful back and neck injuries.

The jury returned a verdict clearing Davis of liability for the crash — even though he was obviously at fault.

Why? The Star-Telegram noted two factors that swayed the jury. The injured person’s description of her injuries changed from mild pain at the ER immediately after the accident to extreme pain. Also, the damage to both automobiles was minor.

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Wednesday, with the State Bar of Texas convention here in Fort Worth, the Texas Board of Trial Advocates conducted an excellent full day trial so injury attorneys could sharpen their skills.IMG_9018

Some of the top trial attorneys in the state played the roles of attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants and Judge R.H. Wallace from Fort Worth presided over the trial.

The DWI case, which was tried in South Carolina several years ago, involved personal injuries to a man who was broad sided on a Sunday morning as he drove to church. The property damage to his van was devastating. He claimed he had sustained a traumatic brain injury which had ruined his life.

The defendant driver was a habitual drunk whose blood alcohol content was about four times the legal limit.  He was convicted of vehicular assault and was serving a jail sentence.

One of the many problems the plaintiff’s team tried to overcome was the scarcity of credible evidence regarding which of the three bars the driver had been to that night was responsible for the crash. Another was that at least four hours passed from the time the drunkard left the defendant’s bar and the time of the crash. Other problems included the lack of credibility of the drunk driver, the lack of proof as to whether he had drunk any alcohol at the defendant’s bar (it claimed it only served him water), his blood alcohol content, the plaintiff’s medical and lost wages damages, and other critical issues.

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1993-572-3-smThe U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule in the controversial religious liberty case on Monday. Instead it asked the lower courts and the parties to settle the dispute.

Zubik v. Burwell, was one of this session’s most highly anticipated cases. Seven different religiously affiliated organizations, including one from Texas, challenged the Affordable Care Act’s provision that requires them to provide health insurance coverage for their employees’ contraceptives. The government created a solution that allowed the organizations to notify the insurer or the government, which would then pay for the contraceptive coverage at no cost to the organizations.

The opinion announced per curiam by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. failed to resolve any of the case’s issues. Since the parties are unlikely to reach an agreement, the 13 related cases will languish in appeals courts until the vacant seat in Washington is filled.

And in another display of how dysfunctional and polarized the Court has become, the justices had already asked these parties in this dispute over the Affordable Health Care Act’s birth-control mandate to compromise their positions, knowing it wasn’t able to craft a majority opinion.

These highly unusual moves highlight the need to fill the empty seat or have the justices achieve consensus opinions, the stated goal of the chief justice.

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Ethan Couch Tragedy Resonates Two Years Later

This overprivileged kid climbed behind the wheel of his father’s company’s Ford F-350 truck in June 2013. He was wasted on alcohol and drugs. The 16-year-old’s blood alcohol content was a staggering three times the legal limit — if he were 21. 

Couch brutally crashed the truck into four bystanders, killing them, and injured several of his passengers, crippling one.

But this would have been just another horrific crash that got a few inches of space in a newspaper until lawyers created the now legendary “affluenza” defense” in his juvenile trial. 

I was in the courtroom when the famous words were uttered since I was representing the 15-year-old student who had been riding in the bed of Couch’s truck. The young man heart suffered profound brain damage causing permanent disabilities that will require round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. 

The judge heard three days of grueling testimony, including statements read by the victims’  families, but only sentenced Couch to10 years probation. The public was naturally outraged, believing that the father’s wealth kept his son from being locked up. The case became international news.

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