Appeals Win Recognizes that Admission of Fault Does Not Always Mean Negligence
Aug 10, 2023
Dallas attorneys Cassie Dallas and Ryan Owen secured an appeals win, affirming a take-nothing judgment for their client in a negligence case.
In June 2019, the Plaintiff was driving a rental car along Highway 360. As traffic ahead stopped, the Plaintiff applied his brakes and veered to the right and onto the shoulder. The Defendant, who was driving directly behind, tried moving into the left lane to avoid the accident, but still struck the Plaintiff’s car.
At trial, the Defendant accepted fault and responsibility for the wreck. The jury weighed all of the evidence and when asked whether the negligence, if any, of the Defendant proximately caused the wreck, the jury unanimously answered, “No.”
The Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by entering judgment in favor of the Defendant because no legally sufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict.
Other Factors Support Jury's Verdict
The Plaintiff had the burden to prove negligence and proximate cause. Negligence means failure to use ordinary care, or failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances. It is well established that the mere occurrence of a rear-end collision may be some evidence of negligence, but it is not negligence as a matter of law.
The Court first distinguished authorities cited by the Plaintiff, then turned to cases relied on by the Defendant. From these authorities, the Court gleaned that “a driver’s admission of fault or responsibility for a wreck does not establish the driver’s negligence as a matter of law, even when the driver has acknowledged that there may have been a more reasonable or prudent course of action to have taken than the one the driver ultimately took.”
The Court recognized that some evidence showed that the Defendant was negligent—namely, her admission of fault and responsibility coupled with her acknowledgement that she could have avoided the wreck if she would have put more distance between vehicles—but other facts supported the jury’s verdict. At the time of the accident, it was raining, the pavement was wet, and traffic was heavy. The Plaintiff testified that the Defendant had not been tailgating him, and the Defendant did not think that she had left an unsafe distance between the vehicles. Finally, the Plaintiff had either slammed on his brakes or applied them quickly, he had veered onto the right shoulder, and the Defendant had slammed on her brakes and attempted to move her vehicle to avoid the collision.
Despite the fact that Defendant accepted responsibility and fault, other evidence supported the jury’s verdict, so the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Defendant in all respects.