On Aug. 22, the 236th District Court in Tarrant County issued a roughly $1.3 million final judgment for five plaintiffs against Gotta Go Express Trailways Inc. and the driver of its vehicle, which crashed en route to a Colorado ski trip with 46 children aboard.
Mark Werbner of Dallas' Sayles/Werbner, who represents the plaintiffs, says his clients, who included the parents of two minors in the accident, were "happy for the matter to be finished and satisfied with the outcome."
But Werbner and Aaron Pool, defense counsel in Patricia Davidson, et al. v. Gotta Go Express Trailways Inc., et al., agree that this case confirms what many North Texas litigators have taken to heart: Fort Worth jurors tend to be more conservative than their Dallas counterparts.
In an email, Pool, a partner in Houston's Donato Minx Brown & Pool in Houston, writes that Werbner, "wound up getting $1.3 million less for his clients than his demand, and got approximately $100,000 less than was offered prior to trial."
Pool says he had offered Werbner's clients a total of $1.48 million before trial. Werbner confirms that settlements discussions were held but didn't comment on amounts.
Werbner's clients alleged negligence and gross negligence causes of action in a petition filed on Feb. 22, 2011, and sought damages, including exemplary damages. The defendants in the case, the bus company and the driver, denied the allegations in an answer of March 23, 2011. During the trial, some of the plaintiffs settled. The trial took two weeks, and the jury deliberated for two days. On June 17, the jurors issued a roughly $700,000 verdict, finding the defendants were negligent but not grossly so.
Weighing the Evidence
Werbner believes the jurors struggled to evaluate the lifetime cost of a traumatic brain injury suffered by one of the minors in the accident.
"It's hard to show the long-term impact of the injuries, because the person who suffers the TBI [traumatic brain injury] can appear in court to have made a good recovery," Werbner says.
Pool agrees that the child with the alleged head injury appeared at trial to have exemplary faculties, since she testified to reading 300-page mythical novels on a weekly basis.
"I wish my kids did that," says Pool.
He believes the jury also factored in a particular plaintiff witness' testimony about seat belts. The witness told the court that she did not use one on the ride. Pool believes jurors could have interpreted that lack of seatbelt use as evidence that the bus driver's handling of the vehicle prior to the accident was not fear-inspiring, despite the plaintiffs' allegations to the contrary.