“Taking Responsibility” ≠ Negligence as a Matter of Law

Yedlapalli v. Jaldu
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00531-CV (June 28, 2022)
Justices Myers, Partida-Kipness (Opinion, linked here), and Carlyle
While Yedlapalli was stopped at a stop sign, Jaldu rear-ended her. Yedlapalli testified that, from her rear-view mirror, she saw Jaldu on her cell phone and that Jaldu never slowed down. Jaldu, in contrast, claimed she was at a complete stop behind Yedlapalli and reached down to get a piece of paper on the floor, which caused her foot to slip off the brake and her car to roll forward and tap Yedlapalli’s car.

Yedlapalli sued Jaldu, claiming not only damage to her car but also bodily injury. On cross-examination, Yedlapalli’s attorney asked Jaldu if she was “taking one hundred percent responsibility for the crash.” Jaldu agreed that her car hit Yedlapalli’s when her foot slipped from the brake. Jaldu also admitted she told Yedlapalli at the scene that it was her “mistake,” making her responsible for the damage to Yedlapalli’s car. But Jaldu refused to take responsibility for Yedlapalli’s purported injuries, claiming everyone was “completely fine” immediately after the accident. Jaldu also explained to the jury that it was “fishy” that Yedlapalli sued only after Yedlapalli did not pay her medical bills.

Yedlapalli moved for a directed verdict based on Jaldu’s purportedly “taking one hundred percent responsibility” for the accident. The trial court denied the request for directed verdict. The jury later answered “no” on the question whether Jaldu’s negligence caused the occurrence in question. So, the trial court entered a take-nothing judgment against Yedlapalli.

Yedlapalli appealed, challenging the denial of the motion for directed verdict and the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s finding on negligence. On the directed verdict, the court of appeals explained that acceptance of responsibility, standing alone, does not establish negligence as a matter of law. The court observed that a jury could have concluded a person of ordinary prudence, sitting at a complete stop a safe distance behind Yedlapalli, could have reached down to pick up a piece of paper, as Jaldu testified. On factual sufficiency, the court similarly explained that a rear-end collision, standing alone, does not mean a jury’s failure to find negligence is not supported by sufficient evidence. The jury could have credited Jaldu’s account and concluded that a reasonably prudent person would have acted in the same way. Or, the jury could have concluded Yedlapalli failed to meet her burden of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, the court of appeals affirmed.
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