Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-19-01496-CV (June 1, 2021)
Chief Justice Burns and Justices Reichek and Carlyle (Opinion linked here)
It was a dark and stormy night. Two cars collided. The defendant in a lawsuit about the accident testified that he “hit a large puddle of water, hydroplaned, and spun into a car in which Mr. Panameno was a passenger.” The defendant denied he was negligent, insisting he acted reasonably given the poor road conditions and bad weather. The district court defined “Act of God” and asked the jury to assign percentages of responsibility to the defendant and “Weather/Road Conditions.” The jury found plaintiff’s damages were $8,350 and allocated 25% to the defendant and 75% to the weather and road conditions. Accordingly, the trial court reduced plaintiff’s damages by 75%. Plaintiff appealed.
The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded for a new trial, based on the text of the proportionate-responsibility statute, which requires the jury to determine the culpable persons and assign percentages of responsibility for “(1) each claimant; (2) each defendant; (3) each settling person; and (4) each responsible third party who has been designated.” TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 33.003(a). The Court held “Weather/Road Conditions” was not “a person or party whose negligence was found to be a proximate cause” of plaintiff’s damages, so should not have been included in the proportionate-responsibility question. Any consideration of weather and road conditions is subsumed in assessing the parties’ negligence.