Introduction. In this case, the widow and family of Mr. Deol (deceased) sued a truck driver, Defendant Gregory, and her employer, Defendant New Prime, for negligently causing Deol’s wrongful death, in a multi-vehicle trucking accident. Gregory v. Chohan, 615 S.W.3d 277, 295 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2020, no pet. h.)]. The trial court entered judgment for $17 million in favor of the widow and Deol’s family based upon the jury’s verdict. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.
Background. Defendant Gregory lost control of her truck that she was operating for her employer, Defendant New Prime, when she braked on ice because she saw brake lights ahead. Gregory’s truck jackknifed blocking the road. Gregory left the truck and did not put on the emergency flashers or take other action to warn oncoming vehicles. Subsequently, multiple vehicles crashed around Gregory’s truck. Four people were killed including Deol.
Prior to his death, Deol was operating a tractor-trailer and managed to steer it around Gregory’s jackknifed truck. Deol’s truck was clipped by another tractor-trailer and Deol stopped his truck on the shoulder. Subsequently, additional vehicles crashed in the area. Apparently, Deol got out of his truck and was subsequently killed when one of the vehicles involved in the accident struck a van causing it to run over Deol.
The Deol family sued multiple parties including Gregory and her employer, New Prime. The case against Gregory and New Prime proceeded to trial resulting in the jury awarding almost $17 million to Deol’s estate and family. The award to Deol’s estate included $500,000 for Deol’s mental anguish he sustained in the accident before he died. The verdict in favor of Deol’s family members included an award of over $16 million including for their loss of past companionship, loss of future companionship, past mental anguish, and future mental anguish.
The appeal. On appeal, Defendants Gregory and New Prime challenged the jury’s findings that the evidence showed that Gregory was negligent and that the negligence proximately caused Deol’s death. The court found that multiple facts existed to support the jury’s findings that Gregory was negligent. These included that:
- Gregory was already driving in the snow before the accident.
- Gregory had difficulty seeing because of problems with the windshield wiper fluid and in turn was having difficulty seeing through the windshield because of ice.
- After Gregory stopped to address the windshield wiper problems, Gregory failed to obtain updates on the weather reports which included a winter weather advisory warning of snow, sleet and freezing rain.
- Gregory was traveling 58 miles per hour in these extreme weather conditions and she applied a hard stop on the ice.
- Expert testimony showed that Gregory was traveling too fast and that Gregory did not correctly apply her brakes in ice.
- After Gregory jackknifed the truck, she failed to activate any warning systems.
Thus, the court of appeals found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of negligence.
The court of appeals then addressed whether the negligence of Gregory proximately caused Deol’s death. In that regard, the court stated:
Proximate cause has two sub-elements, cause-in-fact and foreseeability. W. Invs., Inc. v. Urena, 162 S.W.3d 547, 551 (Tex. 2005). Negligence is a cause-in-fact of an injury if (1) the injury would not have occurred without the negligence and (2) the negligence is a substantial factor in causing the injury. Miller v. Lone Star HMA, L.P., No. 05-17-00954-CV, 2018 WL 3991191, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas Aug. 21, 2018, pet. denied) (mem. op.). Foreseeability requires that the negligent actor, as a person of ordinary intelligence, anticipate, or should have anticipated, the danger their negligence created for others.”
Gregory v. Chohan, supra, *295.
The court of appeals found that it was Gregory’s negligence that caused Deol to take evasive action and then be struck by another tractor-trailer.
The jury in this case could readily conclude that the potential danger created by Gregory’s negligence in jackknifing the trailer and in failing to warn oncoming traffic, continued and remained active.
Gregory v. Chohan, supra, *296.
The court of appeals concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s proximate cause finding.
The Defendants also complained on appeal that there was insufficient evidence to support the damages awarded. Defendants contended that Deol was killed instantaneously so that he could not have sustained any mental anguish before he died.
However, a witness, who saw Deol lying in the road after being ran over by the van, testified that Deol was shaking, rolling around in pain and making verbal sounds before he died. The court of appeals found that there was sufficient evidence to support the award to the estate for Deol’s mental anguish.
Next, the court addressed the damages awarded to Deol’s widow, children and parents for their loss of companionship and mental anguish. Deol was only 45 years old at the time he was killed and his life expectancy was 78 years of age. Thus, his family members could have enjoyed the positive influence that Deol had on them for another 33 years.
The evidence showed that Deol was a loving father and husband. Deol was the primary provider for his family and they could not afford to keep their house after Deol’s death. Deol’s wife became seriously depressed and his children became withdrawn, inactive, gained weight, and became depressed. The court examined the record in detail regarding the toll that Deol’s loss took on his family and found that there was sufficient evidence to support the multi-million dollar award for their damages.
Final thoughts. The unfortunate death of Deol resulted from a series of events that followed Defendant Gregory negligently jackknifing her truck. The most critical issue addressed on appeal was probably whether Gregory’s negligence proximately caused Deol’s death. This case shows that the foreseeability element of proximate case does not require that each specific event leading up to the death was predictable. Rather, it only requires showing that it was foreseeable in general that the triggering event – the jackknifed truck – resulted in injury or death.