US Chamber Files Amicus Brief in Werner Verdict

Group Asks Texas Supreme Court to Overturn $100 Million Finding
Werner truck
The case stretches back to a 2018 trial. (Werner Enterprises)

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Texas Supreme Court asking the high court to reject a $100 million lower-court jury verdict against Werner Enterprises that was upheld by a state appeals court last year.

The chamber, which claims 300,000 direct members, said the verdict in the 2014 accident on an icy divided roadway is unfair and “threatens the trucking industry, but also commercial activity more generally.”

Werner has filed a petition to review the case with the court. The court has indicated that the case has merit, and is accepting comment on the petition.

“The flawed analysis breaks new ground and, if left to stand, will be used to establish further unnecessarily burdensome duties and expand already exploding liability,” said the chamber brief, filed with the court in mid-June. “The chamber respectfully urges this court to grant the petition for review and reverse.”

The case stretches back to a 2018 trial in which a Houston jury returned what stands as one of the highest monetary judgments against a motor carrier in a civil case. The crash at the center of the case occurred when a pickup truck driven by a friend of the plaintiff in the lawsuit lost control on a slick interstate, traveled across the highway median and collided with a Werner tractor traveling on the opposite stretch of road.


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The state appellate court upheld the district court trial results that concluded Werner was partly responsible for the crash, because Werner’s driver “should have foreseen” that the pickup truck would cross the median under a court guideline known as “proximate cause.”

Werner appealed the jury verdict in October 2018 to the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, which upheld the verdict award.

In its case before the state appeals court, Werner objected to the jury’s finding that the driver and company were negligent and also to the judge’s decision to allow certain evidence in the case. Werner also objected to the jury’s award of future medical care expenses for the plaintiffs.

The appeal, however, ultimately was denied in a 5-4 decision after languishing in the legal system for several years.

In its “amicus curiae” brief the chamber said that the state appeals court did not properly analyze the facts of the case when it rejected Werner’s appeal.

Werner has said the state court of appeals’ denial imposes a legal duty on Texas motorists in the state’s largest appellate district to anticipate that vehicles on the other side of a divided highway “will lose control and cross directly into their path.”

The carrier argued further that “a failure to foresee this remote possibility and do everything possible to avoid it, including getting off the road entirely, can make a driver 100% responsible for almost any accident.”

Werner said the relevant facts of the accident are undisputed: Werner driver Shiraz Ali was proceeding in his lane, operating and in control of a Werner tractor-trailer, when the plaintiff’s vehicle suddenly careened into his path, leaving him no time to avoid a fatal collision.

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Werner’s appellate brief said the accident’s investigating officer testified that “this was truly an accident,” that the driver “didn’t do anything wrong,” and that there was nothing he could have done to avoid the collision.

The chamber’s amicus brief follows similar briefs filed in February by the Texas Trucking Association and another advocacy group asking the Texas high court to reject the lower-court accident verdict against Werner.

“Trucking companies are targeted as deep pockets and faced with a bombardment of unmeritorious claims, settlements and awards,” said the TXTA and Trucking Industry Defense Association’s amicus curiae brief, filed in February. “This verdict defies common sense. This case has become a poster child for the ever-increasing and over-expansive liability now confronting the trucking industry. ”

Werner ranks No. 16 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 30 on the TT Top 100 list of the largest logistics companies.