Houston, Texas (October 28, 2021) - Harris County, Texas – home to the City of Houston – was formerly considered a relatively conservative jurisdiction compared to the rest of Texas. However, Harris County has become increasingly problematic for corporate defendants in personal injury litigation. A recent Harris County nuclear verdict solidifies this fact and places corporate defendants on notice that there may be no safe haven anywhere within the State of Texas when it comes to defending catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death claims from the "Reptile" strategy.
On October 25, 2021, a Harris County jury awarded $352 million to Ulysses Cruz and his family, after he was catastrophically injured by a third-party driver of a heavy truck. Specifically, Mr. Cruz was paralyzed from the chest down when he was struck by a van driven by Defendant Reginald Willis. Both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Willis were acting within the course and scope of their employment at the time of the accident. Mr. Willis was employed with Defendant Allied Aviation Fueling (AAF), while Mr. Cruz, age 50, was working as a wing-walker for United Airlines. At the time of the accident, Mr. Cruz was wearing his high-visibility (bright yellow) safety vest and holding orange wands as he walked behind the right wingtip of the United Airlines aircraft, which was being pushed back from the gate at Bush Intercontinental Airport. It was then that he was struck from behind by Mr. Willis operating the AAF truck. As a result, Mr. Cruz was thrown in the air and onto the tarmac, paralyzing him from the chest down.
Suit was filed by Mr. Cruz's wife Cecilia Cruz, individually and as a representative of Mr. Cruz, as well as his adult child Angelo Cruz, and minor child S. Cruz. The jury determined that Defendant Willis was negligent and 30% liable for the plaintiffs' damages. The jury further determined that Allied Aviation was 70% liable for the plaintiffs' damages, specifically finding that Allied Aviation negligently trained Mr. Willis. Negligent training, as well as negligent hiring and retention, are favorite claims of the Reptile Theory.
The jury awarded approximately $287 million for the damages suffered by Mr. Cruz. The breakdown of the $287 million was as follows:
- Physical pain sustained in past: $15 million
- Past mental anguish: $15 million
- Future physical pain: $70 million
- Future mental anguish: $70 million
- Past physical impairment: $15 million
- Future physical impairment: $35 million
- Past disfigurement: $10 million
- Future disfigurement: $22.5 million
- Past medical expenses: $2 million
- Future medical expenses: $30 million
- Past lost wages: $290,000
- Future lost wages: $2.6 million
Damages were also awarded to Mr. Cruz's wife and children. Specifically, Mrs. Cruz received $25 million in lost future consortium, while Mr. Cruz's children (one adult and one minor) each received $20 million in future lost parental consortium.
Information on this case and the resulting verdict is limited as it is fresh and Lewis Brisbois was not involved in the matter. Thus, we cannot speculate on the particular facts of the case, the actions of the defendants, the adequacy of the defense strategy, or the decisions by the trial court that may or may not have resulted in this visceral reaction by a Harris County jury. However, one thing is certain: the "Reptile" is alive and well in Texas, including Harris County. As always, Lewis Brisbois' Transportation Team is here to help defendant businesses mitigate their chances of falling prey to the "Reptile."
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