Judge Floyd denies plaintiff's motion for new trial in Bronco blow out case

David Yates Mar. 4, 2010, 4:38am

Judge Donald Floyd, who has granted defeated plaintiffs new trials twice in two years, recently ended his streak by shooting down a trial lawyer seeking a retrial after jurors left his clients empty handed.

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, last April a Jefferson County jury found no negligence on the part of Calvin Ford for indirectly selling a Ford Bronco to Eric Carlsen, who died in a wreck when the wheels came off his newly purchased sport utility vehicle.

A year later, plaintiff's attorney Timothy Ferguson, representing the Carlsen family, filed a motion for new trial Feb. 9, which argued that the jury's verdict "is against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence."

A hearing on the matter was held Feb. 19. Judge Floyd ruled the following week and the order denying the motion was filed Monday, March 1.

Judge Floyd's order did not state why he denied the motion.

Floyd has been questioned by Texas' highest court two times in recent months for granting new trials to plaintiffs without a supporting explanation.

In January, the Texas Supreme Court directed Floyd to state his reasons for disregarding a jury verdict and granting a plaintiff a new trial, granting United Scaffolding's petition for writ of mandamus.

The writ argued that the judge abused his discretion by granting a motion for new trial filed by plaintiffs James and Lisa Levine - a decision that put the already-tried case back on the court's July docket.

Floyd had written in his order that he granted the Levines' motion "in the interests of justice and fairness."

In July 2009, the court ordered Floyd to give a reason why he abandoned the jury's findings in an asbestos trial against DuPont.

Throughout February and March 2008, Judge Floyd presided over a DuPont asbestos trial (Caryl Richardson et al vs. DuPont de Nemours, E179-183), which centered on deceased plaintiff Willis Whisnant Jr.

His family claimed he was exposed to enough asbestos fibers to contract mesothelioma, a lung condition that took his life in 1999 at age 72.

When the jury found no negligence by DuPont, Glen Morgan, a partner at Beaumont's Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, filed a motion for a new trial, which Floyd granted without offering a rationale behind his reasoning.

Donna Carlsen et al vs. Calvin Ford case background

Originally, the case of Donna Carlsen et al vs. Calvin Ford came to a close April 29, after a four-week trial in Judge Floyd's 172nd District Court.

At the request of Calvin Ford, jurors were asked to decide if five other entities which had serviced the Ford Bronco or its tires were also negligent in causing the death of Eric Carlsen.

The jury found no negligence by any of the six listed entities, leaving the plaintiffs empty handed.

Eight months later, Judge Floyd signed a final judgment, ordering that the Carlsens take nothing "and that defendant recover court costs from the plaintiffs."

But in his motion for a new trial, Ferguson argued that the jury's "finding is erroneous because the undisputed cause of the wheel coming off the Bronco was due to the 'negligence' of somebody's failure to tighten the lug nuts."

During the trial, Calvin Ford had apparently offered the Carlsen family a $1.5 million settlement.

According to testimony and court documents, Eric Carlsen bought a pre-owned 1994 Ford Bronco from Keating Motors in Winnie four years ago. Only two months later, one of the tires broke off the Bronco while Carlsen was driving on State Highway 73.

He was killed when the vehicle wrecked.

In early 2007, Donna Carlsen filed the suit individually and on behalf of her two minor children in Jefferson County District Court, naming as defendants Kolander Corp. doing business as Calvin Ford, Jackie Baxter Tire Co. and Keating Motors. Raiford Motors and Pro-Logic Inc. were later added to the suit.

Jackie Baxter, Keating, Raiford and Pro-Logic reached settlements with Carlsen.

The trial centered on the suit's remaining defendant, Calvin Ford.
Calvin Ford was represented in part by attorney Amanda Hilty of the Bair Hilty law firm in Houston.

Jurors were asked to discern if any negligence on the defendants' or Eric Carlsen's part were the cause of the incident, but they returned a "no negligence" verdict for all six parties intertwined in the suit.

Prior to Carlsen's purchase of the vehicle, court papers show that Calvin Ford accepted the Bronco as a trade in, and then hired Baxter Tire to install new tires.

Soon after, Calvin Ford transferred the Bronco to Keating Motors, which then sold the vehicle to Carlsen on Oct. 30, 2006.

The plaintiffs alleged the defendants negligently installed the tires and failed to properly inspect the vehicle.

They asked jurors to award them damages for Carlsen's past and future lost wages, mental anguish and loss of love damages.

Trial case No. E179-260

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