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Texas Appeals Courts May Determine Whether Reasons for Setting Aside Verdict Were True – In re Toyota Motor Sales USA

By September 12, 2013July 23rd, 2019Auto Accidents, Product Liability

Because I handle a lot of cases involving defective product claims—both here in St. Louis and nationwide—I’m familiar with the issues raised by defective auto parts. Defective cars and car parts are a serious risk because no matter how safely you drive, you can get into an accident—or have one substantially worsened—anyway if there’s a serious defect in the car. The plaintiffs in In re Toyota Motor Sales USA, a Texas Supreme Court case, alleged a very serious safety flaw: defective seat belts. The case arose out of the crash of Richard King’s Toyota 4Runner, during which King was ejected from the SUV. The family claims this was caused by a defective seat belt system. The family won its products liability lawsuit, but the judge gave the defendants a new trial. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately agreed with a lower court that this was an abuse of discretion. King was driving along a highway when a semi truck turned in front of him. To avoid the truck, he swerved, but lost control of his SUV and rolled it over several times. He was ejected from the vehicle and sustained fatal injuries. His family sued Toyota and the dealership from which the 4Runner was purchased, saying the seat belt was defective. In a pretrial deposition, the responding Texas state trooper testified that he did not believe King had been wearing a seat belt, based on its position when the trooper arrived at the scene. Despite an order from the judge to exclude this trooper’s seat belt testimony as conclusory and inexpert, the Kings’ own counsel accidentally mentioned it once, after which Toyota’s counsel raised it twice. After the jury found for Toyota, the Kings’ attorney asked for a new trial, alleging Toyota’s counsel had violated a court order by raising the issue. The judge granted it, finding a new trial was required both as a sanction and because the violation created injustice. The Court of Appeals denied Toyota’s appeal. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately reversed those decisions, finding that a trial court must not only explain an order for a new trial, but that appeals courts are free to review the merits of that explanation. In this case, the high court found no merit in the new trial order, and thus an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Prior cases have required that an order for a new trial be understandable, reasonably specific, legally appropriate and issued “for valid reasons.” It makes little sense to allow trial courts to order a new trial for reasons that are procedurally correct but unsupported by the record, the court said. And under this standard, the court found that the trial court erred, because the record conflicts with its stated reasons. Because the Kings’ own counsel introduced the forbidden evidence and then failed to object to it, the court said, it waived any alleged error on that subject. Thus, the trial court was wrong to find error in Toyota’s subsequent use of the evidence. Because Toyota’s actions were appropriate, the court said, it was also wrong to use a new trial as a sanction. The Texas Supreme Court ruled here in a way that is consistent with how federal courts and many other jurisdictions already review orders. While the outcome was bad for the plaintiffs in this case and their auto accident attorney, it could help plaintiffs in other injury cases whose trial courts issue an order not supported by the evidence or the law. In general, when you sue an auto manufacturer for product defects, it’s not unusual for the case to go to an appeals court, just because these manufacturers tend to have deep pockets. Often, they would rather file an appeal they have little chance of winning than submit to it and set a precedent they don’t like. As a result, it’s vital to have an experienced attorney by your side, to reduce the chances of an appeal with any merit. If you or someone you love suffered a serious injury in a Missouri or southern Illinois crash caused by auto parts defects, you should contact Carey, Danis & Lowe. For a free consultation, you can reach us online or call 1-877-678-3400 today. Similar blog posts: Sixth Circuit Affirms Defense Verdict in Defective Lighter Design Lawsuit – Cummins v. Bic USA Seventh Circuit Revisits Washing Machine Defect Class Action in Light of Supreme Court Ruling – Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. Seventh Circuit Vacates Tablesaw Injury Verdict for Evidentiary Mistakes – Stollings v. Ryobi Technologies