Saturday, April 11, 2009

Supreme Distrust: Texas High Court Lets Ford Go After Jurors for Mis-Signalling

Supremos opine trial court should have let product-liability defendant investigate jurors and develop evidence to support excuse for breaching settlement agreement made while the jury was deliberating. Agreement was made to avert higher damages after jury sent note implying as much.

Judgment thrown out and case remanded to the trial court to allow plaintiff to interrogate jurors under oath. Opinion adds another wrinkle to Texas Supreme Court's track record of undoing jury verdicts, except that there was not even a verdict yet to overturn in this case, as the judgment merely enforced the parties' settlement agreement.

Ford Motor Co. v. Castillo, (Tex 2009)
No. 06-0875 (Tex. Apr. 3, 2009)(Johnson)(defendant entitled to opportunity to conduct discovery on affirmative defenses to breach of settlement claim based on improper juror conduct)(Ford given chance to show it was justified in backing out of settlement agreement because of allegedly misleading message from jury that precipitated settlement)


Ford Motor Company and Ezequiel Castillo, the plaintiff in a products liability action, settled while the jury was deliberating. The settlement occurred after the presiding juror sent a note to the judge asking the maximum amount that could be awarded. Based on later discussions with jurors, Ford suspected that outside influence may have been brought to bear on the presiding juror. After Ford sought, but was refused, permission to obtain discovery on the outside influence question, it withdrew its consent to the settlement. Castillo sought summary judgment against Ford for breach of the settlement agreement. Ford’s response renewed its request for discovery, but the trial court rendered summary judgment for Castillo on the breach of settlement agreement claim. We hold that the trial court erred by refusing to allow discovery on Castillo’s action for breach of contract, including whether there was any outside influence on the jury. We reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY v. EZEQUIEL CASTILLO, ET AL.; from Cameron County; 13th district (13-04-00638-CV, 200 SW3d 217, 06-08-06) The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and remands the case to the trial court.Justice Johnson delivered the opinion of the Court
Justice Wainwright delivered a concurring opinion, in which Justice Medina joined.

1 comment:

Tom Taormina said...

Surprises in products liability cases can be avoided. Through the discovery process, we determine if an appropriate standard of care was exercised by the manufacturer or service provider as measured against internationally recognized conventions and standards.
We evaluate the integrity of the quality control and manufacturing practices of a defendant company. The outcome of an investigation can show irrefutably that a company either did or did not exercise an appropriate standard of care, discipline and social responsibility.
This is invaluable for the defense when we discover that the company exercised an appropriate level of quality management and it is overwhelmingly improbable that they are at fault.
For the plaintiff, we most often uncover negligence or disregard on the part of the producing company, the evidence is so compelling that the outcome quickly escalates from compensatory to punitive damages.

Our experience over eight years of expert witness testimony is that clear and concise opinions can un-complicate the message that the jury has from which to deliberate.

Tom Taormina
Forensic Business Pathologist®