Appeals court dismisses injury suit; plaintiff should have read release before signing

David Yates May 27, 2010, 5:47am


The Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling last Thursday granting three defendants' motions for summary judgment, opining that the plaintiff should have read the release before taking cash for his work-related injury.

In March 2008, Curtis Nealy, along with his wife Sharon, filed suit against DSF Advanced Staffing, Jefferson County Drainage District No. 6 and Joshua Broussard – alleging all three defendants were responsible for the neck injury he suffered after the dump truck he drove collided with another.

Court documents show that on Aug. 13, 2007, Nealy's dump truck was being loaded at Transit Mic Concrete & Materials in Beaumont when it was struck by a dump truck being driven by Broussard, an Advanced Staffing employee performing work the JCDD No. 6.

"After loading, Nealy moved his vehicle forward from under the hopper and came to a stop," court papers say. "Broussard was operating a dump truck behind Nealy's ... and failed to stop before colliding into the rear of the dump truck."

In his suit, Nealy says he was experiencing pain within an hour after the accident. Three days later, he received $486 from JCDD No. 6 and signed a release.

He had already been to the doctor and was wearing a cervical collar when he signed the release, court papers say.

Shortly after the suit was filed, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, arguing Nealy had knowingly received compensation and signed a release – voiding him from pursuing a civil claim.

A hearing was held on May 13, 2009. A week later, Judge Gary Sanderson, 6oth District Court, signed an order granting the defendants' motions -- severing Nealy's claims against all defendants into a case separate from the claims asserted by Nealy's wife, Sharon.

On appeal, Nealy contends he was given page 3, the last page in the release, to sign, which "does not unambiguously release all of his claims," court papers say.

"Nealy testified in deposition that the DD6 employee gave him the third page to sign but did not show him the first two pages of the release," states the Ninth Court's opinion, authored by Justice Steve McKeithen.

"Nealy also testified that he did not read the release before he signed it and that he declined to take a copy of the release when the DD6 employee who watched Nealy sign the release in duplicate asked him if he wanted a copy. The bottom of the signature page is clearly marked as the third page."

On top of being misled, Nealy also argues that the release is ambiguous because it does not identify the released parties by name or describe his injuries, court papers say.

"At the time of execution of the release, the parties were aware that Nealy had received an injury to his person, they had negotiated compensation for his personal injuries, and DD6 compensated Nealy for all damages for which he sought compensation," the opinion states.

"Nealy signed a release that placed the risk of mistake on Nealy. Although there is summary judgment evidence that Nealy was not aware that he had released any claim he might have for subsequently discovered injuries, at most that evidence raises an issue of unilateral mistake that would have been prevented by Nealy's reading the release.

"We hold the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment and in denying the motion for reconsideration. Accordingly, we overrule issues one and two and affirm the judgment."

Nealy is represented in part by attorney Clint Lewis.

The defendants are represented in part by attorney Larry Simmons.

Trial case No. B181-479
Appeals case No. 09-09-00431-CV

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