Last week, the Supreme Court of Texas issued 3 opinions, one corrected opinion, and no grants. All three of the new opinions are of particular interest.
First, Marcela and Jose Bustamante v. Enrique N. Ponte, M.D. et al. is a medical-malpractice case out of Dallas County and the Dallas County Court of Appeals. Here, an infant ran the high risk of developing partial blindness due to her prematurity. Although her vision impairment was preventable, she became blind in one eye and her other eye had severe impairment. The parents sued the hospital and attending physicians claiming that their negligence caused the vision loss of their child. A jury found the physicians negligent and a court of appeals reversed and rendered that the plaintiffs take nothing, holding that plaintiff’s experts failed to explain how the medical doctor’s acts caused injury and they failed to cite any non-conclusory evidence of causation. The only issue appealed to the Texas Supreme Court was whether there was legally sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that the physicians’ negligence in assessing and treating the infant proximately caused her vision impairment. First, the Court determined that the court of appeals had erred in applying a strict but-for causation analysis in this case. Instead, the court of appeals determined should have noted that Texas has long recognized that there may be more than one proximate cause. Second, The Court held that this case was distinguishable from the Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Hauner case because Plaintiffs did not rely solely on epidemiological studies to establish causation. Therefore, the court of appeals erred in finding the epidemiological studies to establish causation. Therefore, the court of appeals erred in finding the epidemiological studies to be no evidence of causation because Plaintiffs produced no evidence that the infant was similar to those infants who participated in the study. The Texas Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s findings that the doctor’s negligence, more likely than not, caused the premature baby’s poor vision. The Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded.
Second, the Texas Supreme Court addressed whether an 18-day gap between entrustment and injury, is too attenuated to establish liability for negligent entrustment in Always Auto Group Ltd. v. Steven Walters. In this case a victim brought a negligent entrustment claim against an auto dealer who loaned a vehicle to a man who was intoxicated. The man proceeded to drive the vehicle for 18 days without incident before he lost his job got extremely drunk, and struck the victim while driving intoxicated. The trial court found the 18 day gap too attenuated and granted summary judgment for the defendant. The court of appeals reversed and remanded finding that the proximate cause was a fact issue to be determined by a jury. The Texas Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the judgment of the appellate court. Specifically, the court held that even if the man was drunk at the time of entrustment, a motor vehicle accident 18 days later was not a natural and probably result of that intoxication.
Third, Starwood Management LLC v. Donn Swaim and Rose Walker LLP involves a legal-malpractice case out of Dallas County. In this case, an aircraft was seized by the DEA and Starwood retained Rose Walker LLP as counsel to recover the aircraft. Ultimately, recovery efforts for this aircraft were unsuccessful, however, through the efforts of another attorney, Starwood recovered 5 other aircraft that had been seized at the same time. When Starwood brought a legal malpractice claim against Rose Walker LLP, Starwood presented various affidavits executed by the attorney who had represented Starwood with respect to the successful recovery of the other seized aircrafts. In these affidavits the attorney explained his experience recovering these other aircrafts and his conclusion that Rose Walker LLP’s failure to comply with notice requirements caused forfeiture of the aircraft. The trial court and court of appeals concluded that these affidavits were conclusory as they made “no case-by0case comparison of the facts.” However, the Texas Supreme Court reversed and remanded finding that the attorney explained why he came to his conclusion and that the facts set forth in the affidavit were both demonstrable and reasonable.