Representative Wrongful Death Cases
This case involved the tragic death of a father and husband while on his way to work in Tyler. The accident occurred on Highway 271 to the north of Tyler. The Defendant, a district sales manager for an East Texas company with offices in Longview and Lufkin, was traveling from his home in Tyler to the Longview office for a sales meeting. The Defendant crossed the center median and struck the Plaintiff head-on. The Plaintiff died at the scene. The Defendant was unconscious at the scene and died sometime later in a Longview hospital. The Defendant’s blood analysis was obtained from the Smith County District Attorney’s criminal investigation. The blood analysis showed no presence of alcohol or any illicit drug. The Defendant’s cell phone records showed no activity around the time of the accident. The download of the blackbox data recorder in Defendant’s vehicle likewise gave no explanation for why the accident occurred. The witnesses testified that the Defendant veered suddenly across the median and struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle. The Defendant’s alleged that the Plaintiff failed to take proper evasive action and argued that the Plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence.
The Commercial General Liability Carrier (CGL) for the Defendants’ company argued that the Defendant was not on-the-job at the time of the accident and that the CGL policy thus did not cover the accident. The standard for whether an employee is “on-the-job” is whether the employee is acting in furtherance of the employers’ business purposes at the time and place of the subject accident. Texas law generally holds that employees are not on-the-job while traveling between their home and place of employment. At the time of the accident the Defendant was driving a company owned vehicle and was using a company credit card for fuel and expenses. He was transporting several boxes of sales literature and a sales training film from the Lufkin facility to the Longview facility. The sales meeting was to be conducted at a time and place designated by the owner of the company. The CGL carrier initially filed a Declaratory Judgment Action seeking a determination that there was no coverage for the accident and thus no duty to defend the Wrongful Death action brought by the parents, widow and minor children of the deceased. However, as the evidence developed, it become increasingly obvious that the Defendant was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and the CGL carrier conceded coverage.
The Plaintiff had a business degree from the University of Texas at Tyler and was earning about $65,000 per year as the Office Manager of a medium sized medical practice in Tyler. A vocational expert and an economist were retained to evaluate the Plaintiff’s lost earnings. The vocational expert reviewed the Plaintiffs education and work history and projected the Plaintiffs’ probable career path. The economist determined the probable income at each stage of the Plaintiff’s career and calculated the net present, after-tax value of the lifetime earnings that the Plaintiff would have contributed to his wife and children at $3.65 million.
The CGL carrier and the insurance defense attorneys focused on trying to discredit the widow and the relationship of the Plaintiff with his children. However, the Plaintiff had been a loyal husband and was actively involved in the sports and church activities of his children. The insurance defense attorneys hired investigators to ask questions of members of the community suggesting that the widow had engaged in extramarital affairs and that the marriage was unstable. However, the Plaintiff and the widow had been together since they were in high school and evidence was developed showing the committed nature of their relationship. About one and one half years after the accident the widow entered into a romantic relationship with a man from her church and the defense attorneys once again attempted to place pressure on the widow by investigating her relationship. However, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Section 71.005 prohibits the defense from "directly or indirectly mentioning or alluding to a ... extramarital relationship ...". The spouse of an accident victim has a right to continue on with his/her life and unless and until the surviving spouse remarries the defense may not mention or allude to post-accident relationships.
At the time of the accident the Defendant carried a $1million CGL and a $1million excess policy. The Plaintiff carried a $100,000 underinsured motorist policy. The Court ordered the parties to engage in mediation and the matter settled at mediation for a confidential amount.
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