UPS truck driver escapes $27 million judgment … for now

October 15, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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A UPS truck driver is off the hook for $27 million in a crash lawsuit after a Texas court of appeals discovered a procedural error in the case.

A Ninth District Texas Court of Appeals panel recently reversed a trial court’s judgment awarding plaintiffs in a crash lawsuit $27 million for a crash they claim was caused by a UPS truck driver. The appellate court ruled that the trial was held in the wrong county.

Consequently, the case was dismissed, and an entirely new trial will begin in the appropriate county, allowing UPS an opportunity to pay a lower award or perhaps none at all.

The lawsuit was filed in a Jefferson County, Texas, court following a crash that occurred in March 2018 on Interstate 10. Gregorio Flores was stopped on eastbound I-10 in Louisiana because of a crash ahead. Fabian Williams and Allen Norris were stopped behind Flores in separate vehicles.

A UPS truck driver traveling east on I-10 failed to notice the stopped traffic, according to court documents. As a result, the driver applied the brakes too late, striking at least two vehicles, Williams and Norris among them. A chain reaction multiple-vehicle collision ensued, including Williams’ vehicle being pushed into Flores’.

Flores sued the UPS truck driver and Williams in Jefferson County, Texas. That county was chosen by Flores becauseWilliams was a resident of Jefferson County. UPS filed a motion to have the venue moved to Harrison County since that is where its driver lived.

Subsequently, Williams filed his own lawsuit against the UPS truck driver in Jefferson County. Again, UPS asked the court to move the case to Harrison County and requested a jury trial. The motion to change venue was denied.

In March 2019, just two months before the scheduled trial date, the trial court found the UPS truck driver’s negligence was the sole cause of the crash. Two days later, the trial court ruled that UPS did not timely pay the jury fee. As a result, a bench trial was scheduled instead. The judge found the UPS truck driver solely responsible for the crash. Williams and Norris were awarded $27 million in damages.

UPS appealed, claiming wrong venue and challenging the denial of the UPS truck driver’s jury demand, allowing plaintiffs’ experts to testify without prior disclosure and a complaint that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court’s large damages award.

A court of appeals panel found that Flores never offered evidence to establish venue in Jefferson County in his lawsuit against Williams and the UPS truck driver. Rather, Flores’ only factual allegation regarding venue was mentioning that Williams lived there. Williams’ lawsuit names the same venue as Flores’.

Williams’ case turned against him when the court awarded his motion for partial summary judgment.

By the trial court ruling that the UPS truck driver was solely responsible for the crash, all negligence claims in the Flores case were removed.

Consequently, Williams could no longer rely on Flores’ venue allegations in the cross-lawsuit. Since those allegations were the basis in denying UPS’ motion to change venue, the court of appeals reversed it. Since UPS provided evidence of venue during its attempt to move the case, the appellate court went with that county.

Essentially, Williams’ motion for partial summary judgment killed both his and Flores’ lawsuit against UPS. Flores’ lawsuit is mostly unsalvageable. However, Williams’ case has been transferred to Harris County, where both parties get a second bite at the apple. LL

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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.