Record $100 MILLION Nuclear Verdict Overturned on Appeal, New Trial Ordered
Tyler, TX – A record nuclear verdict against a Texas trucking company and a formerly employed truck driver was overturned this week after a three-judge appeals court panel determined the verdict to be “excessive.”
On Wednesday, a Texas Court of Appeals wiped out a 2018 jury verdict that awarded more than $100 million to motorist Joshua Patterson following a 2013 collision with a truck owned by Fort Worth, TX-based FTS International Services, LLC.
FTSI operates more than 1,000 power units employing nearly 600 drivers servicing the oil and gas industry.
According to court documents, at approximately 1:05 p.m. on September 15, 2013, Patterson drove his pickup truck through Ore City, TX, on his way to a luncheon for a member of his church.
He noticed an FTSI semi-truck, later determined to be driven by Bill Acker, speeding up and slowing down in a somewhat erratic pattern.
As they entered the city limits, Acker’s truck drifted into Patterson’s lane, colliding into the rear of Patterson’s vehicle.
The collision was recorded on a dashcam inside Acker’s truck, which showed that he took his hands off the wheel.
According to Acker’s dashcam, his truck was traveling at forty-four miles per hour when it struck Patterson’s vehicle, also determined to be traveling about the same speed.
They pulled over and Acker apologized for causing the collision.
Ore City Police Department Officer Tashia Wilson responded to the call for assistance.
Patterson indicated that he was unhurt and he had no visible cuts or abrasions.
Officer Wilson did not observe any signs of impairment on Acker’s part.
The officer cited Acker for failure to control his speed, to which he later pleaded “guilty.”
Determining that neither Acker nor Patterson were injured, Officer Wilson released the parties.
Because Patterson’s vehicle was still drivable and he did not believe he had been injured, he drove his truck to the luncheon.
Acker was on probation with FTSI at the time of the accident for a previous incident.
His employment was terminated and results of a drug test came back positive for marijuana, along with amphetamine and methamphetamine metabolites.
Acker would later admit during trial he was impaired at the time of the collision.
After experiencing pain in his neck later on the evening of the crash, Patterson sought medical treatment and retained counsel.
Between January 2014 and October 2016, Patterson underwent seven cervical epidural injections and a disc replacement surgery.
During this entire time period, Patterson continued to perform his job as a crane operator at Nucor Steel.
Court documents state that approximately four months after the disc surgery, investigators hired by FTSI captured surveillance of Patterson performing normal life activities, including picking up his then fifty-pound daughter and carrying her to his truck.
Nevertheless, despite an offer for lighter duty work by his employer, Patterson believed he was incapable of working in the future.
His physicians agreed.
His employer requested documentation from his doctors showing his inability to work, but Patterson never provided it.
Instead, he ultimately resigned.
The Trial and Verdict
The trial took place in Upshur County, TX in 2018.
Patterson alleged not only that FTSI was vicariously liable for Acker’s negligence while in the course and scope of his employment, but that FTSI was directly liable for its negligence in hiring, training, supervising, and retaining Acker.
After a seven-day trial, the jury returned a verdict award to Patterson totaling an astounding $101,361,337.09.
Specifically, the jury found that Acker and FTSI were both negligent and apportioned responsibility seventy percent to Acker and thirty percent to FTSI.
The jury awarded damages to Patterson as follows:
(1) $131,191.96 and $612,578.80 in respective past and future medical expenses;
(2) $67,066.33 and $1,500,000 in past and future lost earning capacity;
(3) $2,000,000 and $8,000,000 in past and future physical pain;
(4) $2,000,000 and $4,000,000 in past and future mental anguish;
(5) $3,000,000 and $5,000,000 in past and future physical impairment; and
(6) $500.00 in past disfigurement.
The jury also found that the harm to Patterson resulted from the gross negligence of Acker and FTSI and assessed $75,000,000 and $50,000 in exemplary damages respectively against FTSI and Acker.
The trial court applied the exemplary damages cap calculation in Texas, which reduced the amount of recoverable exemplary damages against FTS to $5,371,674.18.
Accordingly, on November 12, 2018, the trial court signed a judgment against Acker and FTSI jointly and severally, awarding Patterson $26,311,337.09, plus prejudgment interest in the amount of $1,661,631.19.
The trial court also awarded Patterson exemplary damages in the amount of $5,371,674.18 against FTSI and $50,000 against Acker.
Following the verdict, FTSI filed a motion for a new trial after it claimed to receive an anonymous letter stating that Patterson had bragged that he was “gonna squeeze a bunch of money out of this fender bender.”
Further, FTSI alleged Patterson’s legal counsel had instructed him to quit his job to better position the case at trial.
Additionally, according to court records, FTSI claimed Patterson’s legal counsel paid his living expenses after he resigned from his job.
As part of its motion, FTSI and Acker sought post-trial discovery pertaining to the letter.
However, the trial court denied the motion for new trial.
Upon appeal, the three-judge panel determined the initial verdict was “excessive.”
“Although the record supports that Patterson may have suffered from injuries proximately caused by Acker’s and FTSI’s negligence, it does not support the amount awarded as reasonable compensation for actual damages Patterson suffered as a result of the accident,” Appeals Court Justice Greg Neeley wrote in a 44-page decision. “Accordingly, Texas law requires that we may not reverse and remand for a new trial on only damages, and we must instead remand for a new trial on all issues.”
Transportation Nation Network will continue to follow the case.