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UPS Appeal Successful; $27 Million Nuclear Verdict Remanded to Trial Court

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A $27 million-plus nuclear verdict against UPS handed down in 2019 has been overturned by a Texas appellate court and remanded to the trial court with a requirement for a venue change.

The original case was heard in the Texas 58th District Court in Jefferson County. But the order handed down Thursday by Judge Charles Kreger of the Texas 9th Court of Appeals remands the case to Harris County, Texas, home of the city of Houston.

UPS (NYSE: UPS) and Byron Bisor, the driver from the 2018 wreck that was at the heart of the case, argued that the suit should not have been heard in Jefferson County, where the $27 million verdict was imposed. That verdict came from a bench trial, with Judge Kent Walston imposing the penalties.

Neither Harris County nor Jefferson County is where the wreck occurred; they’re not even in the same state. The wreck occurred in 2018 in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, on Interstate 10.

One of the early plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, Gregorio Flores, settled, which proved consequential in the appellate court decision.

Three individuals who were struck by the UPS 18-wheeler driven by Bisor — Fabian Williams and a couple, Allen and Deloris Norris — went to trial. Deloris Norris was not in one of the vehicles hit by the UPS truck but joined the suit because of the injuries and impact on her husband.

The size of the award was propelled by the significant injuries suffered by Williams and Norris. According to a brief filed by their attorneys in the appeals case, the two men have “uncontested medical expenses of nearly $3.5 million, are permanently disabled, unable to work, without the ability to care or provide for themselves and family, and suffer from unremitting chronic pain, impairment, and disability,” it said, adding that “Norris considered ending his own life.”

UPS’ and Bisor’s appeal of the lower court verdict was based primarily on two arguments. One was that the venue in Jefferson County was improper. Secondly, UPS and Bisor argued that the decision to deny a jury trial and instead go to a bench trial was based on a late filing of a $40 jury fee.

Judge Kreser overturned the earlier verdict on the basis of venue. As a result, he did not hand down a ruling on other aspects of the case.

Various court documents spell out what happened in the March 2018 incident.

Flores, the plaintiff who settled with UPS, was stopped in an eastbound lane of Interstate 10 in Louisiana because of an unspecified traffic problem in front of him. Williams and Norris were stopped in their own respective vehicles behind Flores.

UPS’ Bisor allegedly did not see the traffic backup until it was too late to stop. “Bisor struck at least two vehicles in front of him, including those of Allen Norris and Williams, causing a chain reaction involving multiple vehicles,” Judge Kreser’s recap of the incident said. “The impact from the UPS tractor-trailer rig by Bisor pushed Williams’ vehicle into Flores’ vehicle.”

Flores brought his suit in Jefferson County, with UPS, Bisor, and Williams as the defendants. Williams was a resident of Jefferson County, and Flores said Williams’ car plowing into that of Flores — regardless of the fact that he was pushed — made him a defendant and therefore made Jefferson County the proper venue.

UPS and Bisor sought to move the case to Harris County, where Bisor resided and where the case now will head as a result of the appeals court decision.

Williams filed suit against UPS and Bisor but agreed with Flores’ decision to keep the case in Jefferson County. The Norrises later intervened in the Flores suit, leading UPS and Bisor to say they had no standing in that venue, given that they did not live there. But UPS’ attempt to move the case to Harris County failed (though there is disagreement in the appeal briefs whether UPS and Bisor properly made the request for a venue change).

It is clear that those impacted by the crash very much wanted the case heard in Jefferson County. Williams was being sued by Flores and there is no evidence he did anything wrong; he just happened to get struck by the UPS truck, like Flores, and then his vehicle hit that of Flores. But even Williams argued the case should be in Jefferson County, as did the Norrises.

The problem with their argument is that Flores was out of the case, having settled. He was the only one who had an action against Williams, the Jefferson County resident.

The lower court granted partial summary judgment in March 2019, and the case went to a bench trial that awarded the more than $27 million in damages against UPS.

But Judge Kreser said that neither Williams nor the Norrises “alleged or argued any of the necessary statutory factors to establish their right to remain in the Jefferson County litigation.” There is no evidence that Wiliams was at fault, Kreser ruled, and Flores was out of the litigation because he settled.

With Flores no longer in the case, that undercut the argument that Jefferson County was the proper venue for the litigation.

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