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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Silvandria Iracheta was driving a 1988 General Motors Oldsmobile Toronado on a two-lane highway near Laredo just after noon on a clear day when she suddenly veered across the center line into an oncoming 18-wheeler at a closing speed of over 100 m.p.h. The truck rolled over the car, ripping off its hood and roof, and severely damaging its left side. The collision ruptured the truck’s fuel system, splattering diesel over both vehicles that exploded in flame. Several minutes after the car came to rest at the side of the road, a second fire exploded, this one fueled by gasoline from the car. Silvandria died instantly in the collision, and her four-year-old son David, seated in the back, may have as well. Her other passenger, nine-year-old son Edgar, belted in the passenger seat, remained conscious and died in the second fire. The boys’ grandmother, Rita L. Iracheta, sued General Motors Corp. on behalf of their estates. A jury failed to find that Silvandria’s negligence caused the boys’ deaths and found instead that Edgar’s death, but not David’s, was caused by a design defect in the car which allowed gasoline to siphon from the fuel system. The jury found Edgar’s pain and anguish damages to be $10 million. The trial court rendered judgment on the verdict, only General Motors appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered that Iracheta take nothing. Iracheta’s proof of causation rests on the testimony of two expert witnesses. One, Eduardo Sanchez, testified on the origins and causes of the fires resulting from the collision. The diesel from the truck’s ruptured fuel system, he said, exploded on impact in a fireball that, although intense, lasted only the few seconds it took for the Toronado to skid down the highway to a stop. Consistent with the accounts of the truck driver and two other men at the scene, Sanchez testified that, after this first flash fire, small spot fires broke out and continued to burn in the car’s engine and passenger compartments and in the grass around the vehicle for about ten minutes, more or less. The three men approached the vehicle and tried to free Edgar, who was screaming in pain in the front seat, but the car was too hot for them to reach inside. Suddenly, they heard what they described as a “whoosh” sound at the rear of the vehicle, and the second fire exploded, fueled by gasoline from the car. Although the gas tank had remained intact, Sanchez testified that gasoline leaked from the fuel system onto the ground for several minutes until the vapors ignited. Determining whether the car’s fuel system could leak was not, according to Sanchez, within the scope of his expertise. For that, he said, he relied on Iracheta’s other expert, John Stilson, a mechanical engineer with experience in accident reconstruction. Stilson testified that gasoline could leak or siphon from the fuel tank only through a return line that ran from the engine along the left side of the car to the tank. The line was made of steel tubing and did not rupture in the collision, but it was attached on one end to the engine and on the other to the tank by short, flexible rubber hoses that were both found to have burned away at some point. Tests Stilson conducted on a similar vehicle showed that when the car was inclined toward the front, as Iracheta’s was when it came to rest off to the side of the highway, gasoline would siphon out of the tank onto the ground if either the front hose or the rear hose was opened. This condition, Stilson testified, was a design defect in the car. Although Stilson found that gasoline would siphon from the return line at either end, depending on where the breach occurred, Iracheta concedes that she had to prove that gasoline leaked at the rear of the car rather than the front, since all of the witnesses present at the scene testified that the “whoosh” and the second fire came from the rear, and Sanchez testified that the fire could not have happened as it did if gasoline had not siphoned at the rear. Furthermore, Iracheta concedes that she was required to prove that the rear hose was severed or torn in the impact before it burned; otherwise the gasoline escaping from the burning hose would have been ignited immediately by the flame and there would never have been the “whoosh” sound that everyone present heard. The court agrees with the court of appeals that Sanchez was not qualified to testify. It was Iracheta’s burden to establish Sanchez’s qualifications. Sanchez and Stilson both testified that Sanchez was not qualified to offer an opinion on where the siphoning occurred. “Although both also equivocated on the subject, experts cannot be as ambivalent as these two were and establish the privilege of offering opinion testimony under Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence.” “Furthermore, while Sanchez did assert that gasoline siphoned from the return fuel line at the rear of the car, the only support he offered for this opinion was that he had eliminated all other possibilities. He eliminated the obvious possibility that fuel or vapors from the tank filler neck ignited only by saying so, offering no other basis for his opinion. Such a bare opinion was not enough.” The court notes that during summation, without leave of court or notice to opposing counsel, Mrs. Iracheta stood and said to an all-Hispanic jury: “Muchas gracias les doy de parte de mis nietos y mi hija y de parte mia la jurado. ” (“ Thank you very much to the jury on the part of my grandchildren and my daughter and on my part.”). The court of appeals concluded that General Motors’ objection was untimely. The court disagrees. “In these most unusual circumstances, General Motors’ counsel was not required to object to a grandmother’s expression of appreciation on behalf of her deceased daughter and deceased grandchildren, thereby risking the jury’s ire, and it is entirely impractical to think otherwise.” OPINION:Hecht, J., delivered the court’s opinion. Jefferson and Green, JJ., did not participate in the decision.

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