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Texas Supreme Court Modifies Standard for Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Personal Injury standard modifications made in the Texas Supreme court building shown here.

Personal injury standards modifications were made in the Texas Supreme court impacting personal injury cases. In a personal injury lawsuit, the victim can seek both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages can be directly quantified in dollar terms. For instance, if a car accident injures you and you need medical care, your hospital bills represent economic damages. Likewise, any lost income from missing work due to the accident also constitutes economic damages.

Noneconomic Damages

What do personal injury standards modifications mean for Noneconomic damages? Noneconomic damages, are those injuries that cannot be so easily measured yet still exist. This includes emotional injuries such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. Nobody would dispute that an accident causes such injuries. But how do you measure them in dollar terms?

New Trial Ordered in Tractor-Trailer Jackknifing Case

The Texas Supreme Court recently confronted this question. In Gregory v. Chohan, the justices considered a jury verdict arising from a multi-vehicle commercial trucking accident.

The accident took place in November 2013. A truck driver was operating her 18-wheeler on I-40 in icy conditions at night. The driver saw a traffic jam up ahead, so she applied her brakes, but in doing so, the tractor-trailer jackknifed. This is a common type of truck accident where the tractor cab skids and pushes the trailer out of alignment, causing the vehicle to fold into a shape resembling a jackknife with its blade open.

Since the jackknifing happened at night on an unlit road, no warnings alerted other drivers to the tractor-trailer sprawled across I-40. Nine other vehicles ultimately crashed, creating a pile-up. Among the casualties was the driver of another 18-wheeler. A third truck clipped the victim’s truck as he maneuvered around the jackknifed vehicle. After exiting his truck, the victim tried to help other victims. However, another vehicle, pushed by the escalating pileup, struck and killed him.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed

The victim’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and company that owned the jackknifed truck. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. In dollar terms, the jury awarded the victim’s family about $16.5 million in damages, of which a little over $15 million was for noneconomic damages, specifically the “mental anguish” they suffered as a result of the victim’s death.

The Texas Supreme Court ordered a new trial, however, after finding the amount of noneconomic damages awarded was “excessive.” The court said there was sufficient evidence to justify damages for the family’s mental anguish but not sufficient evidence to prove that the amount awarded was justified. The justices said that at retrial, the family would have to show a “rational connection between the amount awarded and the evidence of injury.” Although as one justice observed in a concurring opinion, it was not clear what this actually meant. The concurring justice therefore invited the Texas legislature to make a “policy choice” by establishing legislative standards for awarding noneconomic compensation.

Speak with a Texas Wrongful Death Attorney TodayThe Supreme Court’s decision is likely to create uncertainty when it comes to awarding noneconomic damages in future personal injury and wrongful death cases. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Texas commercial truck accident lawyer if you or someone that you love has been injured or killed. Contact The Stano Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.