Judge says flawed jury instructions reason behind granting new trial

David Yates Aug. 17, 2010, 4:20am


A local judge said flawed jury instructions were behind his decision to grant a new trial in a recent automobile collision case.

Last week, the Southeast Texas Record reported that Jefferson County District Court Judge Bob Wortham granted Gary Luke and his wife Angela a new trial after losing their case in June.

The order did not go into detail why the plaintiffs' motion for new trial was granted.

On Aug. 16, Judge Wortham explained to the Record that the charge of the court, which is given to jurors before deliberations, did not include a question regarding liability.

Wortham said if he had not caught the error and granted a new trial, the Ninth Court of Appeals most likely would have.

The trial over a car wreck ended June 17 with a zero dollar award. The jury concluded that defendant Brittany Rubel was not negligent when she struck Gary Luke.

Plaintiff's attorney Michael Ramsey filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that jurors erred because Rubel "was the sole cause of the collision," court papers say.

Rubel's attorney, Steven Ray Thomas, countered by arguing that the jury was asked to determine if his client was negligent, not if she "solely" caused the collision.

Wortham says both sides understood that jurors should have been asked to determine if Rubel caused the collision as well as if she was negligent in doing so.

The Lukes sued Rubel in January 2008, alleging that on Jan. 14, 2007, she struck Gary Luke's vehicle "suddenly and without warning" while traveling at an "unsafe rate of speed" in the 440 block of Jimmy Johnson Boulevard in Port Arthur.

The Lukes contended Rubel failed to yield the right of way while making an unsafe lane change.

Throughout the trial, Ruble maintained that she "was reacting reasonably to a sudden and unexpected emergency" when she entered Luke's lane.

Judge Wortham granted the plaintiffs' motion on Aug. 9.

The Lukes are seeking damages for their alleged mental anguish, medical expenses, disfigurement, impairment and lost wages.

Ramsey is an attorney for the Houston-based Moystn Law Firm.

Thomas is an attorney for the Chamber, Templeton, Cashiola & Thomas law firm in Beaumont.

Case No. A181-112

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