A Texas appeals court has reversed a $7.4 million verdict against a trucking company, its owner and one of its drivers after evidence presented at the trial didn’t support the jury’s findings.
Killeen, Texas-based Even Better Logistics LLC and its owner, Michelle Cora Croom, can’t be held liable for negligent hiring, training or supervision of driver Dennis Rayner based on the evidence presented at trial, a panel of the Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso said Wednesday.
“We set aside the findings of the jury based upon legally and factually insufficient evidence to support them, reverse and render judgment in favor of [Cora Croom, Even Better Logistics and Rayner],” the court said.
Even Better Logistics had been ordered by a jury in 2020 to pay $7.4 million to Ronnie Claxton of Del Valle, Texas, for injuries he suffered from a 2017 crash caused by one of its truck drivers.
The accident occurred on U.S. Highway 183 in Austin, Texas, when Claxton was on his way home from work. Ahead of Claxton was a tractor-trailer being driven by Rayner, who was hauling an oversized and overweight load for Even Better Logistics.
Rayner deviated from his approved route, driving about 13 miles off course, and then struck a bridge, sending a 25-pound metal turnbuckle, used to secure his load, through Claxton’s windshield, according to court documents.
Claxton’s attorney from the Carlson Law Firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FreightWaves.
Officials for Carlson said Claxton suffered injuries from the 2017 accident that were the result of “a poorly maintained 18-wheeler driven on an unapproved route that struck a bridge and sent debris flying through his windshield.”
In its reversal, the Texas appeals court said the trial court gave the jury a wrongly constructed single, broad-form liability question despite several underlying theories of liability being unsupported by the evidence.
“The trial court submitted a single, broad-form liability question against the appellants covering a multitude of theories of liability, several of which were precluded from submission based on legally or factually insufficient evidence,” the appeals court said. “Without knowing upon which theories the jury based its verdict, particularly against Even Better Logistics, and observing the jury received no instructions or definitions regarding whether Rayner’s or another’s actions could be imputable to Even Better Logistics and under what circumstances, we cannot determine whether the jury’s verdict was based on an improper theory.”
A new trial can be conducted for negligence claims against Rayner and Even Better Logistics for liability as Rayner’s employer, the court said.
Even Better Logistics, which had five trucks and three drivers, is inactive, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
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