Articles Posted in Trials

The 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.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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The 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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Effect on Injured Clients’ Claims in Texas Courts 

The U.S. Supreme Court has made several landmark decisions during this session that have been widely analyzed. The high court has also approved several significant changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that of course got little, if any, attention in the press. 

Although most personal injury claims are brought in Texas state courts, Texas typically adopt the federal rules. So expect the changes to FRCP to also influence changes to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedures (TRCP), possibly as early as next year.

New Discovery Rules 

Discovery rule changes that have been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court include:

  • Eliminating the discovery of information that could lead to admissible evidence
  • Relying more heavily on a proportionality test that weighs costs with benefits and what’s at stake
  • Putting burden on party that objects to production of evidence to state whether documents are being withheld
  • Changing rules governing preservation and destruction of electronically stored information
  • Reducing time for serving summons and enter scheduling orders

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Dallas-Based Company Plans to Appeal

A federal judge ordered Trinity Industries to pay $664.4 million in damages and fines and an additional $20 million in attorneys’ fees in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by the company’s competitor. The judgment amount includes $525 million in damages and another $138.4 million in fines.

The Dallas-based corporation continues to deny it defrauded the government and the American public when it altered its guardrail design to save money and then covered up their actions. As a result, numerous people died and were injured. Trinity Industries plans to appeal the judgment.

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Excessive Speeding and Alcohol Use Contributed to Princeton Crash

21-year-old Joshua Bartlett was sentenced on Monday to five years in prison for a horrific DWI crash that killed two of his friends and injured four others. Last week, he was convicted of two counts of intoxication manslaughter and four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Joshua faced up to 20 years of incarceration, but was also eligible for the very lenient sentence of community supervision.

Lives Destroyed by DWI Crash

“Affluenza Defense” To Be Banned?

The cover story in the May issue of D Magazine takes a rare look at Fort Worth. The infamous Ethan Couch and his dysfunctional parents are profiled two years after the horrendous DUI crash that  killed a 24 year-old woman and three Good Samaritans and left a young man whom I represented totally paralyzed.

The article by Michael Mooney, who helped bring the American Sniper story to light, chronicles how the kid became a killer. He grew up in a huge home where he was given everything. For example, he was allowed to drive himself to school at 13; his father bragged that he was better than most drivers. At 15, he was given a F-150 with a Harley-Davidson package and unlimited freedom. His parents always praised him and never punished him. The parents were law-breakers themselves (see photos that follow). It’s not much surprise that he thought he was above the law.

Was The Juvenile Judge’s Decision Fair?

You will remember that the teen was largely relieved of responsibility. How did he get away with vehicular manslaughter and intoxication assault?  Couch’s blood alcohol concentration was a shocking.24 percent and he had drugs in his system.

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Motion to Require Injured Toddler’s Presence at Marshall Trial Cancelled After Public Protest


Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world
, with 2014 revenues of more than $476 billion dollars and assets worth close to $205 billion. But when its customers or drivers are injured, rather than do the right thing and pay their damages, it and many other mega corporationsoften resort to fighting them.

In Marshall last week, the Wal-Mart’s legal team demanded that a severely injured toddler be present in court despite the interruption to his physical therapy and the discomfort the little boy would have to endure, according to this week’s Texas Lawyer. In a trial about to begin in Marshall, a vehicle owner bought two new tires from Wal-Mart, which the mechanics knew should be installed on the back. Soon after, the driver was involved in a car crash with Cayden Hinson’s family in which the improperly installed tires were to blame. Two-year-old Cayden’s suffered traumatic spinal cord injuries. Wal-Mart’s lawyers filed but just withdrew their motion to require the boy to attend the voir dire part of the trial (when the jury is questioned before it is seated).

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Yesterday the Ninth Court of Appeals entered judgment dismissing Domino’s Pizza from a lawsuit. This voided a huge verdict that had been awarded in a horrendous motor vehicle accident case that killed one person and ruined the life of another in Beaumont.

The crash:

In 2012 Mr. and Mrs. Christopher were crashed into by a delivery driver for MAC Pizza Management, the franchisee of a Domino’s Pizza. He who drove his Ford Explorer across the center line and hit into their car head-on. The driver’s car had bald tires and the roads were wet. Domino’s had a corporate policy requiring that pizzas be delivered within 30 minutes, which only allowed nine minutes for a driver to get to the customer’s house. This delivery was further than that distance from the restaurant.

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