In the wake of a $100 million lower court verdict stemming from a fatal 2014 crash, Werner Enterprises Inc. is seeking relief from the Texas Supreme Court. This verdict is one of the most substantial financial judgments ever against a motor carrier, and its history dates back to a 2018 trial.
The Background of the Case
The accident in question happened when a pickup truck, driven by a friend of the plaintiff, skidded on an icy interstate. Losing control, the pickup crossed the highway median and slammed into a Werner tractor driving on the opposite side.
Following the verdict in 2018, Werner made an initial appeal to the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston. This appeal was narrowly denied in a 5-4 decision after being delayed in the legal system for a considerable period.
The Points of Contention
At the core of Werner’s appeal are several areas of disagreement:
- Negligence Finding: Werner took issue with the jury’s determination that both the driver and the company were negligent.
- Admissibility of Evidence: Werner disagreed with the judge’s decision to admit certain pieces of evidence during the trial.
- Medical Expense Awards: Werner also contested the jury’s decision to grant future medical care expenses for the plaintiffs.
In the brief Werner filed with the high court on Aug. 17, the company emphasized the significance of the legal questions raised by this appeal. Central to their argument is the expectation that drivers should foresee the chance of vehicles from opposite lanes suddenly crossing into their path and possibly even exiting the road to avoid such unpredictable incidents. Werner stressed that anticipating such rare events could unfairly burden a driver with complete responsibility for most accidents.
The Accident Details
From Werner’s perspective, the critical facts of the accident are clear and uncontested: their driver, Shiraz Ali, was appropriately driving in his lane and had full control of his tractor-trailer when the plaintiff’s vehicle abruptly veered into his trajectory, providing him with no chance to prevent the tragic collision.
Furthermore, although there was patchy ice in the area, it was daylight, and Ali was driving his vehicle safely below the speed limit. Werner’s standpoint is that, while the accident had unfortunate outcomes, the actions of Ali did not directly cause those outcomes.
The plaintiff’s argument during the trial was that Ali should have been driving even slower, which would have positioned him differently on the road when the accident occurred.
The appellate brief from Werner points to the testimony of the officer who investigated the accident. According to this officer, the accident was purely incidental; Ali was not at fault, and there was nothing he could have done differently to avoid the crash.
In conclusion, this case has raised significant questions about driver responsibility, foreseeability in accident scenarios, and the legal expectations placed on motorists.
Matthew M. Leffler