Texarkana Triangle haven for Texas motor vehicle product liability suits

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Sep. 12, 2007, 6:49am

Judge T. John Ward

TEXARKANA, Texas -- Within the last four years, the "Texarkana Triangle" has received more than 52 percent of Texas motor vehicle product liability suits.

The area, which includes Texarkana, Marshall and Tyler, has already been dubbed "the third worst judicial hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Foundation for its "plaintiff-friendly" decisions in patent infringement lawsuits. In the federal court in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas, plaintiffs win 78 percent of the time, compared to 59 percent nationwide, according to the 2006 report from ATRF.

Marshall may be known for U.S. District Judge T. John Ward's love affair with patent litigation, but it appears that Marshall and Judge Ward are also receiving more than a fair share of motor vehicle product liability cases.

Within the United States, motor vehicle product liability cases consist of only 0.18 percent of all lawsuits filed since 2004. In Texas since 2004, those cases are 0.72 percent of all Texas lawsuits. So since 2004, Texas has received 28 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle product liability cases.

But what is most significant is that of those Texas cases, 61 percent are filed in the Eastern District of Texas. That means that of all the U.S. motor vehicle product liability cases, 17 percent are being filed in the Eastern District of Texas.

The two major cities in the Marshall Division – Marshall and Texarkana -- have a combined population of around 60,000.

Since 2004, Judge Ward has presided over approximately 40 percent of all Texas motor vehicle product liability cases. That is in addition to his presiding over 26 percent of all Texas patent litigations. Add Texarkana court Judge David Folsom and the two judges preside over a combined total of 52 percent of all Texas motor vehicle product liability cases.

This year alone, more than 24 such cases have come before Judge Ward.

Two lawsuits recently filed in the Marshall Division court illustrate the Texarkana Triangle's motor vehicle product liability litigations.

Brenda Kerr, a Garrison resident, filed suit against DaimlerChrysler in the Marshall court on Sept. 4. While driving her Jeep Grand Cherokee in late 2005, Kerr was seriously injured in a rollover accident. According to her complaint, she was wearing her seatbelt but it did not keep her properly restrained. The plaintiff alleges that the roof collapsed resulting in her partial ejection for the SUV.
Causes of action filed against DaimlerChrysler include strict liability and negligence.

Specifically, the lawsuit states the seatbelts, roof structure, the structure of the vehicle, and the driver's side glass window were defective because of failure to restrain Kerr during the rollover. In addition to exemplary damages, the plaintiff is seeking damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, pecuniary loss, lost earnings, medical expenses, disfigurement, physical impairment, and loss of consortium. Representing the plaintiff is Dallas attorney James Mitchell from the law firm of Payne Mitchell Law Group in Dallas is representing Kerr. The case (No.: 2:07cv00388) has been assigned to Judge Folsom.

The estate of Oral Fay and Genelle Screws Armstrong filed suit against Chrysler in the Marshall court on Sept. 10. While driving a Chrysler 300 in July of 2007, Oral Fay Armstrong lost control and crashed into a brick wall.

According to the lawsuit, the husband and wife were wearing their seatbelts but suffered fatal injuries. At the time of death, Oral was 75 years old and Genelle was 70 years old. The complaint states the deceased's 2006 Chrysler vehicle "was not reasonably crashworthy, and was not reasonably fit for unintended, but clearly foreseeable, accidents." The suit alleges that the vehicle was "unreasonably dangerous and defective" because the airbags did not deploy at a "30 degree, right frontal impact with a delta velocity of 30 mph."

The Armstrong estate is seeking damages for the deceased's physical and emotional pain, torment, mental anguish, and emotional distress. Further damages sought include medical, funeral and burial expenses, mental anguish, and loss of consortium, care, maintenance, support, services, advice, counsel, companionship, and society.

Dallas attorneys E. Todd Tracy and Andrew Counts of the Tracy Firm are representing the plaintiffs. Judge Ward has referred the case (No.: 2:07cv00393) to Magistrate Judge Charles Everingham.

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