Texas appellate court guts nuclear verdict against trucking company

September 9, 2022

Tyson Fisher

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A Texas appellate court has tossed the majority of a more than $7 million verdict against trucking company Even Better Logistics, the latest nuclear verdict to get downsized in Texas.

On Aug. 31, a panel for the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Texas threw out most of a $7.4 million verdict against Even Better Logistics, one of its drivers and its owners in a personal injury case.

The court found that the verdict is not supported by the evidence. A new trial has been ordered.

Facts of the case

The lawsuit stems from a crash that occurred in April 2017.

Dennis Edwards Rayner, who had 45 years of trucking under his belt, was driving a truck owned by Even Better Logistics hauling an oversized load of oilfield spools to Midland, Texas. As Rayner approached Austin heading west on U.S. 290, he mistakenly took the exit going east on U.S. 183 instead of west as the Texas Department of Transportation directions required.

While driving on U.S. 183, part of the oversized load struck the underside of an overpass for state Highway 71. Rayner did not notice the bridge or the height sign on the bridge until it was too late, according to court documents.

Rayner stepped on the brakes, but he was unable to avoid the load hitting the overpass. A part of the load came off the trailer and struck the windshield of Ronnie Claxton’s passenger truck, who was driving behind Rayner’s truck.

Claxton filed a lawsuit in January 2019 seeking damages for personal injury.

The lawsuit named Rayner, Even Better Logistics and Michelle Croom, owner of the trucking company, as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the following:

  • Negligence for various failures in the use of ordinary care in operating a vehicle.
  • Negligence per se for violations of Texas state law in failing to adhere to restrictions related to overweight and over-height loads.
  • Negligent entrustment against Even Better Logistics for entrusting its vehicle to Rayner despite his alleged incompetence to operate the vehicle safely.
  • Single business enterprise/joint venture, claiming the three “integrated their resources to achieve a common business purpose,” out of which arose the accident.
  • Gross negligence, alleging their “operation of a motor vehicle with reckless disregard of the rights of others … was a proximate cause of the damages suffered by (Claxton).”

The case went to trial in January 2020. The jury awarded Claxton damages totaling more than $7 million, including $5 million in exemplary damages from Even Better Logistics. Rayner was ordered to pay nearly $300,000.

Even Better Logistics and the other two defendants appealed the decision.

One of the findings from the panel absolves Rayner of gross negligence.

“Here, we find there is no more than a mere scintilla of evidence indicating Rayner was an untrained or otherwise incompetent driver,” the panel ruled. “In fact, the evidence shows he had ample experience as a commercial truck driver, a clean driving record, and had a solid understanding of the rules of the road and the state and federal regulations with which he was required to comply. He testified that he was aware that if he deviated from the TxDOT route, which he was not allowed to do, he was supposed to stop, pull over, or turn around once it was discovered.”

The panel set aside the verdict against Croom in her individual capacity, negligence against Even Better Logistics and gross negligence against Rayner based on a lack of factual evidence. A new trial has been ordered for all remaining claims. LL

 

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.