Werner Appeals Crash Verdict to Texas Supreme Court
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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. 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.
Werner first appealed the jury verdict in October 2018 to the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston. That appeal ultimately was denied in a 5-4 decision after languishing in the legal system for several years.
In its case before the state appeals court, Werner has 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.
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“This appeal presents several distinct questions of law of manifest importance to the jurisprudence of the state, at least some of which require the reversal and rendition of the judgment below,” Werner argued in its brief filed with the high court on Aug. 17. Werner 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.”
It 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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“Not unlike many Texans driving during winter months, there was patchy ice in the area he was traveling; but it was still daylight, and Ali was in control of his vehicle and safely traveling well below the posted speed limit,” the appeal said. “While the intervening and unforeseeable accident with the [plaintiff] had tragic consequences, Ali’s conduct did not proximately cause those results.”
Werner said the plaintiff argued during the trial that if Ali were driving at all, he should have proceeded at a fraction of the speed, “so that he would have been at a different spot on the road when the plaintiff’s vehicle entered his lane.”
Werner’s appellate brief said the accident’s investigating officer testified that “this was truly an accident,” Ali “didn’t do anything wrong,” and there was nothing he “could have done to avoid the collision.”
Werner Enterprises ranks No. 17 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.