9th District court rules trial court erred in splitting wrongful death suit

By Robert Davis | Apr 2, 2018

BEAUMONT – The 9th District Court of Appeals at Beaumont has conditionally granted a motion for mandamus relief to relator Jarod Johnson in a wrongful death suit filed against him and three other defendants.

Johnson had asked the appellate court "to decide whether the trial court clearly abused its discretion by severing a wrongful death action that was filed against him and three other defendants into three separate suits," the opinion stated.

"Because the plaintiff’s claims against all four of the defendants arose from a single collision that gave rise to one wrongful death action, we hold the trial court clearly abused its discretion by splintering the action into three different cause numbers," the opinion states.

The court noted that a motion for mandamus relief may be granted "only to correct a trial court’s clear abuse of its discretion" with regards to the relator having "no adequate remedy by ordinary appeal."

According to the 136th District Court of Jefferson County's severance of the case, each employee and employer's case would be litigated in the respective counties which they reside, not the county where the accident occurred. This would require liability to be determined by three separate juries, and any appeals to be filed in three separate jurisdictions. 

The court concluded the trial court abused its discretion by severing the case "when the action should be tried in one cause number against all four defendants in a county of proper venue."

Jarod Johnson Jr., the relator's son, was killed in a car accident in Liberty County on June 17, 2016, when they collided with a tractor-trailer driven by Joshua Jordan, a driver for BesTest Inc. 

Holly Johnson, the child's mother, filed the lawsuit against Johnson, BesTest and Refractory Construction Services Co., Johnson's employer, as a result of the accident. She filed the lawsuit in Jefferson County because both companies had principal offices there. 

She alleged that both BesTest and Refractory are liable for the child's death because Jordan and Johnson were driving the vehicles within the scope of their employment with the companies. 

The motion was conditionally granted per curiam on March 22 by Chief Justice Steve McKeithen and Judges Leanne Johnson and Hollis Horton.

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