Texas appellate justices recently overturned a $155,000 verdict against the city of Beaumont, which sought a new trial on the grounds that some evidence and testimony should never have been allowed to influence the jury.
As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, on June 21, 2010, a Jefferson County jury ruled Beaumont Police Officer Lance Carmouche negligently caused a head-on collision with teenage motorist Macy Brocato in March 2008.
Macy's parents, Jay and Valerie Brocato, sued the city in 2009 alleging Officer Carmouche was weaving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed without his audible and visual warning systems when he struck Macy head on.
The jury, tasked to decide who was more negligent in causing the collision, found in favor of Macy, assigning 80 percent of the blame to Carmouche.
Court records show that the city's motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court, forcing it to file its appeal in October 2010.
One year later, the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals issued a memorandum opinion on Oct. 6, reversing the trial court's judgment and remanding the case for a new trial.
On appeal the city argued Carmouche's alleged speed was not relevant and should not have been admitted at trial because the speed limit does not apply to a police patrol, according to the Texas Transportation Code and court papers.
"The accident in this case occurred at night on a multi-lane city street. It is undisputed that Officer Carmouche did not activate his emergency lights or siren, and he was exceeding the speed limit," writes Chief Justice Steve McKeithen in the court's opinion.
"The evidence adduced at trial did not establish as a matter of law that Officer Carmouche was reckless; that is, that he acted in a way that he knew or should have known posed a high degree of risk of serious injury. An issue of fact exists on whether his conduct was reckless under the circumstances and it is the jury's role to resolve disputed issues of fact.
"Essentially, in this case the trial court applied the wrong standard in determining what constitutes an emergency, and erroneously ruled that there was no emergency as a matter of law."
According to court records and testimony, the incident occurred on May 23, 2008. Macy was traveling southbound on Major Drive and was in the process of making a left-hand turn onto Westfield Lane when she collided with Carmouche, who was on his way to assist a fellow officer.
While testifying, Carmouche said he spotted Macy's vehicle, but did not slow down because he expected her to see his headlights.
Jurors awarded Macy $155,348.33, which included $25,000 for future medical expenses, $87,500 for her past and future mental anguish, and $36,000 for her physical impairment. Jurors also awarded Macy's parents, Jay and Valerie, $6,848.33 to compensate them for their daughter's past medical expenses.
The Brocato family is represented by Tommy Yeates, an attorney for the Beaumont law firm Moore Landrey.
The city is represented by Senior Assistant City Attorney Quentin Price.
Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, is presiding over the litigation.
Trial case No. D182-752
Appeals case No. 09-10-00473