This is the next post in a series of articles discussing common issues in Fort Worth, Texas trucking accident cases. The previous post addressed the important role played by expert witnesses is a serious injury case. Given the potentially complicated theories of liability and damage calculations involved in trucking accident cases, expert witnesses can be crucial. This article will explain the reasons Texas courts may bifurcate, or split, a trial into different phases under certain circumstances, and how that may impact your case. If you have been in a trucking accident and need legal assistance, contact an attorney as soon as possible.
In most traditional trucking accident trials, a jury will concurrently hear evidence and render a verdict on two primary issues: the liability of the defendants and the plaintiff’s damages. In some cases, however, Texas courts may grant the defense’s pretrial request to bifurcate the proceeding into two separate phases. Liability will be determined during the first phase and, if necessary, damages will be determined during a second phase. Essentially, the two phases will be separate trials. Bifurcation is most commonly granted in cases where the defense can demonstrate that there is a significant dispute over which party is liable for the accident. If so, the defense may argue that significant injuries and damages sustained by the victim could prejudice a jury’s unbiased determination of liability. The defense may also argue that determining liability separately from damages would conserve judicial resources as the damage phase may not be necessary.
Consider the following example. A semi-truck driver made a wide turn and was in the wrong traffic lane illegally when he was in a head-on collision with a car. At the time of the accident, however, the driver of the struck vehicle was texting. The driver of the car suffered a severed spinal cord and brain damage. He will never walk again or likely resume gainful employment. Potential compensatory damages range into millions of dollars. The trucking company believes that the driver of the car is partially, if not completely, responsible for the accident. It also fears that the victim’s injuries will garner so much sympathy from the jury during the damage phase of the trial, that the jury will be unable to fairly determine which party was liable. Because there is a clear dispute over liability, a court may agree that a bifurcated trial is appropriate in these circumstances. Each outcome will, of course, be based on the facts of the specific situation.
As we have previously discussed, trucking accident cases, especially those that proceed to litigation, can take a significant amount of time. A bifurcated trial may take even longer to complete than a traditional trial. It is imperative, therefore, to retain a law firm with the financial resources to commit to your case for as long as necessary to obtain the best result. Furthermore, the victim’s attorney must be able to effectively communicate the evidence to the jury during the liability phase or risk dismissal of the case before damages are even considered. For this reason, one should strongly consider retaining a firm with lawyers who are Board Certified in Personal Injury Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. These recommendations apply regardless of whether the incident took place in Fort Worth, Dallas, or another Texas area.