Is that Subsequent Accident Coming Into Evidence
In JLG Trucking, LLC, vs. Garza, No. 13-0978, the Texas Supreme Court reviewed a trial court’s exclusion of evidence based on relevance and held that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of a second accident, which was relevant to whether the Defendant’s negligence caused Plaintiff’s damages. Justice Lehrmann delivered the opinion of the Court.
In the case, the plaintiff was in two motor vehicle collisions in a three month span. After the latest collision, the plaintiff sued the party involved in the first accident and claimed that the first collision caused her bodily injuries. The defendant provided the court with two defenses: 1) expert testimony that the injuries the plaintiff suffered were degenerative in nature and 2) that the subsequent accident was truly the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. During the pre-trial motions, the plaintiff requested that the trial court exclude all evidence of the subsequent collision. The trial court excluded the evidence of the subsequent automobile accident on the grounds that such evidence was not relevant to the plaintiff’s claim for injury and because the defense did not have expert testimony that supported their theory of the case. The jury came back with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant appealed to The Court of Appeals and it affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The Court of Appeals held the trial court correctly excluded the evidence on the basis of relevance because “no expert testimony was proffered to establish that the second collision caused any of [plaintiff’s] injuries”. However, the Texas Supreme Court explained that the fact that the defendant did not offer expert testimony that some other event was the cause of plaintiff’s injuries, does not shift the burden of proof to the defendant. The burden of proof still lies with the plaintiff “to exclude with reasonable certainty other plausible causes of her injuries” which might be presented by a defendant. In this case, the burden had been improperly shifted when the Defendant was expected to provide an expert for his alternate theory in the case.
The Texas Supreme Court’s relevancy analysis centered on the rules of evidence because the disputed evidence was excluded as irrelevant. Specifically, the Court discussed a few rules in detail; Rule 401 which broadly defines relevant evidence to contain any “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence” (TEX. R. EVID. 401) and Rule 611(b), which states that the rules allow witnesses to be cross-examined “on any matter relevant to any issue in the case.” (TEX. R. EVID. 611(b)). The defendant argued the second accident is relevant to the causation element of the plaintiff’s negligence claim. The Court agreed and explained that proving causation in a personal injury case forces a plaintiff to “prove that the conduct of the defendant caused an event and that this event caused the plaintiff to suffer compensable injuries.” Burroughs Wellcome Co. v. Crye, 907 S.W.2d 497, 499 (Tex.1995). The Court continued to note that the exclusion of the second accident hindered the defendant’s ability to cross-examine the plaintiff’s expert’s conclusions about causation. As a result, the defendant was prevented from cross-examining the expert’s theory because the Defendant was unable to present relevant evidence of the second accident as an alternative cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Accordingly, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial in accordance with its holdings. Please note that this case is currently up for a rehearing.