Supreme Court of Texas Blog: Legal Issues Before the Texas Supreme Court

No. 13-0136
TAMES

NABORS WELL SERVICES, LTD. F/K/A POOL COMPANY TEXAS, LTD. AND LAURO BERNAL GARCIA v. ASUNCION ROMERO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AYDEE ROMERO, DECEASED, AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF EDGAR ROMERO AND SAUL ROMERO; ESPERANZA SOTO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF ESPERANZA SOTO, GUADALUPE SOTO, MARIA ELENA SOTO; AND MARTI

Oral argument was held on October 9, 2014. The Court issued an opinion resolving the case on February 13, 2015. File Closed

In the news...

Tracking 5 articles about this case.

February 13, 2015

Admissibility of seat-belt evidence in accident cases; Insurance coverage for the BP oil spill [Feb. 13, 2015]

from SCOTXblog

The Court has issued opinions:

October 12, 2014

A quiet orders list [Oct. 10, 2014]

from SCOTXblog

October 10, 2014

Texas Supreme Court justices hear seatbelt evidence, sports injury cases at Tech law

from Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

The article also mentions:
  • UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON v. SANDRA WILLIAMS AND STEVE WILLIAMS
  • June 16, 2014

    Three opinions, one grant [Jun. 13, 2014]

    from SCOTXblog

    This article also mentions 18 other cases.

    March 23, 2014

    Two opinions, one rehearing grant, and six grants [Mar. 21, 2014]

    from SCOTXblog

    This article also mentions 8 other cases.

    Opinion

    February 13, 2015

    Brown
    Hecht
    Green
    Johnson
    Willett
    Guzman
    Lehrmann
    Boyd
    Devine

    Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the CourtView Electronic Briefs | Oral Argument | Video . PDF

     

    Court of Appeals

    Appellate District:8th Court of Appeals
    Outcome Below:Affirmed
    COA Docket No.:08-09-00319-CV
    Opinion Author:Honorable Ann Crawford McClure

    Trial Court

    Trial Court:112th District Court
    County:Pecos
    Trial Judge:Honorable Pedro (Pete) Gomez
    Trial Docket:10319

    Entries on SCOTX Orders Lists

    Docket Entries

    Date Event Outcome  
    2015-05-13 Case Stored  
    2015-03-31 Record returned to Court of Appeals  
    2015-03-31 Mandate issued  
    2015-02-13 Opinion issued   Court of Appeals' judgment reversed; remanded to Court of Appeals
    2015-02-13 Miscellaneous motion disposed. See Remarks.   Denied
    2015-02-13 Court approved judgment sent to attorneys of record Issued
      This case was awaiting the Court's decision after oral argument between October 27, 2014 and February 13, 2015.  
    2014-10-27 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
    2014-10-09 Oral argument  
    2014-10-06 Response to Motion filed  
    2014-09-26 Miscellaneous Motion  
    2014-09-08 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
    2014-09-04 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
    2014-09-04 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
    2014-08-11 Notice of Appearance  
      This case was waiting for oral argument between June 13, 2014 and August 11, 2014.  
    2014-06-13 Case set for oral argument   Case set for oral argument
      This case was waiting for oral argument between March 21, 2014 and June 13, 2014.  
    2014-03-21 Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
    2014-03-21 Petition for Review granted
    2014-02-12 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
    2014-02-06 Reply Brief (Petitioner)  
    2014-01-21 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
    2014-01-21 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
    2014-01-13 Brief on the Merits (Respondent)  
    2013-12-10 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
    2013-12-09 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
    2013-11-07 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
    2013-11-06 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
    2013-10-21 Brief on the Merits (Petitioner)  
    2013-10-15 Case Record Filed  
    2013-09-24 Record Requested in Petition for Review
    2013-09-20 Brief on the Merits Requested  
    2013-08-22 Reply to Response (Petitioner)  
    2013-08-15 Response to Petition (Respondent)  
    2013-07-25 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response disposed   Filing granted
    2013-07-25 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response  
    2013-06-25 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
    2013-06-25 Call received  
    2013-06-25 Phone call from Clerk's Office  
    2013-06-24 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response  
    2013-05-31 Supreme Court of Texas Requested Response  
    2013-04-30 Case forwarded to Court
    2013-04-04 Response Waiver filed  
    2013-03-25 Petition for Review (Petitioner)  
    2013-02-26 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
    2013-02-26 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review filed  

    Parties

    Party Counsel Role
    Soto, Martin
    Mr. Mauro F. Ruiz
    Respondent
    Nabors Well Services, Ltd.
    Mr. Roger D. Townsend
    Mr. David Wayne Lauritzen
    Ms. Amy Warr
    W. Bruce Williams
    Ms. Anna Meredith Baker
    Petitioner
    Romero, Asuncion
    Mr. Richard J. Plezia
    Mr. Jeffrey R. Vaughan
    Mr. Peter M. Kelly
    Respondent

    Amici Curiae

    Amicus Curiae Counsel
    Texas Association of Defense Counsel
    Ms. Ruth G. Malinas
    Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
    Scott Alan James
    Texas Trial Lawyers Association
    Mr. John Blaise Gsanger

    Evidence about seat-belt use is now admissible in auto accident cases

    In 1974, the Court ruled that evidence about whether a car’s occupant was wearing a seat belt was not admissible in an auto-accident case. Carnation Co. v. Wong, 516 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. 1974). Today, the Court overrules that decision.

    It explained that the legal background motivating that rule had changed. First, Texas no longer has a contributory-negligence system, under which a plaintiff could be absolutely barred from recovery if they were even the slightest degree negligent. It now has a system of comparative negligence, with a plaintiff’s recovery merely reduced by the percentage of their own fault — unless that fault exceed 50%.1

    Second, the Court noted that mandatory seat-belt laws began, and became more strict, after its 1974 ruling. Given that change, the Court referred to its prior holding as “a vestige of a bygone legal system and an oddity in light of modern societal norms.”

    The Court rejected the argument that intervening statutes had, implicitly through silence, approved the blanket rule against the admission of seatbelt evidence. In 1985, while approving Texas’s first mandatory-seatbelt law, the Legislature had passed a prohibition on the admission of evidence about seatbelt use that was even broader than the Court’s. But in 2003, the Legislature repealed that provision while making other changes. The Court saw this repeal — without adding other language about the seat-belt question — as the Legislature choosing for its part to be silent. Thus, the Court rejected the argument that the Legislature had weighed in either way.

    The Court holds that normal rules of evidence should apply, leaving the details to be sorted out in the usual way:

    Today’s holding opens the door to a category of evidence that has never been part of our negligence cases, but we need not lay down a treatise on how and when such evidence should be admitted. Seat-belt evidence has been unique only in that it has been categorically prohibited in negligence cases. With that prohibition lifted, our rules of evidence include everything necessary to handle the admissibility of seat-belt evidence. As with any evidence, seat-belt evidence is admissible only if it is relevant. … The defendant can establish the relevance of seat-belt nonuse only with evidence that nonuse caused or contributed to cause the plaintiff’s injuries. And the trial court should first consider this evidence, for the purpose of making its relevance determination, outside the presence of the jury. … Expert testimony will often be required to establish relevance, but we decline to say it will be required in all cases. And, of course, like any other evidence, even relevant seat-belt evidence is subject to objection and exclusion under Rule 403.

    The Court also considered how this should be handled for children who are not wearing seat belts, concluding that it can be proper for a jury to consider both whether an adult in the car bears some responsibility for that injury, as well as whether the child was acting as would an “ordinarily prudent child of [the same] age, intelligence, experience and capacity.”

    And the Court addressed whether the jury should be asked who caused the accident (what the Court calls “occurrence-causing conduct) and then asked separately who caused each person’s injury (“injury-causing conduct”). The Court said no, that both kinds of fault should be folded into a single apportionment question. “There is nothing about injury-causing conduct that renders it incompatible with being considered alongside occurrence-causing conduct in one responsibility apportionment for the harm suffered by the plaintiff.”


    1. The facts involve a collision in which multiple passengers were ejected from a car, including children, and there is conflicting evidence about which adults or children were wearing seatbelts. Even without hearing evidence of seat-belt use, the jury assessed fault for the accident as being 51% to the trucking company and 49% to the family-car driver. Even with the reduction, the family’s award here was $2.3 million. 

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