SE Texas Record

Thursday, October 17, 2019

State appeals court reinstates Jasper County jury's verdict in an auto accident case


By Karen Kidd | May 22, 2019

BEAUMONT (SE Texas Record)  — A Jasper County jury's verdict in an auto accident case has been reinstated after a state appeals court found the trial court should not have granted a new trial in the case.

Jasper County 1st District Court's reasoning for granting a new trial was not supported by the record in the case, a three-judge panel on the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals at Beaumont said in a recent opinion.

"Therefore, the trial court clearly abused its discretion by granting a new trial," the opinion said. " We conditionally grant mandamus relief. We are confident that the trial court will vacate its order granting a new trial and sign a judgment on the jury’s verdict. The writ shall issue only in the event the trial court fails to do so."

In its nine-page opinion delivered May 16, the three-judge panel admitted that "No court is free to simply substitute its judgment for that of the jury."

The panel said it is necessary to intervene when a lower court when a jury's verdict is thrown out and a new trial granted.

"When the trial court grants a new trial because the jury's finding was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, we review the entire trial record to determine, using a factual sufficiency standard, whether the record supports the trial court's reasoning," the opinion said. "The trial court abused its discretion in granting a new trial if the record does not support its stated reasons."

District Court Chief Justice Steve McKeithen, Justice Leanne Johnson and Justice Charles Kreger concurred in the opinion.

The case involves Allen L. Pantalion and Joseph P. Etheridge, doing business as J&G Trucking and J&G Logging Contractors, who sought a writ of mandamus to order the Jasper County 1st District Court to vacate its an order granting the motion for a new new trial with with real party in interest Carol Brasher.

A Jasper County 1st District Court jury found Brasher's sole negligence to be the proximate cause of a motor vehicle accident that was the basis of the underlying lawsuit and found Pantalion not negligent, according to the background portion of the district court's opinion. The trial court, without explanation, sustained Brasher's challenge about the sufficiency of the evidence for the jury's verdict and then amended the order after Pantalion and Etheridge, relator's before the appeals court, filed their mandamus petition.

In its amended order, the trial court said it granted Brasher's motion for new trial "because the finding of the jury was against the great weight of the evidence as the evidence supporting defendant was so lacking as to make the result fundamentally unfair and manifestly unjust," the opinion said.

"Relators argue that the trial court abused its discretion when it granted the motion for new trial despite there being factually and legally sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict," the opinion said. "We conditionally grant relief."

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