The Court of Appeals Thirteenth District of Texas Corpus Christi – Edinburg (“Texas Appellate Court”), in its opinion dated September 17, 2020, held “the jury’s verdict was supported by factually sufficient evidence, and the trial court impermissibly substituted its judgment for that of the jury in granting a new trial.”
The Texas Appellate Court stated that a trial court does not abuse its discretion so long as its stated reason for granting a new trial is: (1) a reason for which a new trial is legally appropriate, such as a well-defined legal standard or a defect that probably resulted in an improper verdict; and (2) specific enough to indicate that the trial court did not simply “parrot a pro forma template,” but rather derived the articulated reasons from the particular facts and circumstances of the case at hand. Thus, when a trial court orders a new trial after a case has been tried to a jury, the parties are entitled to an understandable, reasonably specific explanation why their expectations are frustrated by a jury verdict being disregarded or set aside, the trial process being nullified, and the case having to be retried. If the trial court’s order granting a new trial satisfies these facial requirements, an appellate court may conduct a merits review of the bases for the new trial order and grant mandamus relief if the record does not support the trial court’s rationale for ordering a new trial.
In the case the Texas Appellate Court was deciding, the trial court determined that the jury’s verdict was not supported by factually sufficient evidence. Under traditional factual sufficiency standards, a court determines if a finding is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence that it is manifestly unjust, shocks the conscience, or clearly demonstrates bias. Neither the trial court nor the appellate court may substitute its own judgment for that of the jury, even if the court would reach a different answer on the evidence. The jury is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony.
In the present case, the trial court’s order recited that the verdict was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence or was supported by factually insufficient evidence, which are legally sound reasons to grant a new trial. Moreover, the trial court’s order elaborated, with specific reference to the evidence adduced at trial, how the jury’s answers are contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence.
Nonetheless, the Texas Appellate Court stated, “The record, however, does not support respondent’s rationale for ordering a new trial … The jury heard ample evidence, explored infra, from which it could have reasonably concluded that no party acted negligently and was the proximate cause of Laura’s death … Strader and Drs. Hunter, Strader, Dr. Torres, Dr. Gross, and Dr. Bernick, i.e., every medical professional at trial, testified that a finding of pulmonary embolism is rare and that Laura’s symptoms also coincided with more common ailments, such as the common cold. We additionally observe that Laura nor Enrique informed Strader or Dr. Torres about Laura’s preexisting mass or bleeding condition … the aforementioned testimony is some evidence that Strader and Dr. Torres acted with ordinary prudence and, consequently, constitutes sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that they were not negligent … The evidence supporting the jury’s finding that no party was negligent is not so weak or against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and manifestly unjust … Further, the evidence is factually sufficient to support the adverse finding if the evidence is such that reasonable minds could differ on the meaning of the evidence or the inferences and conclusions to be drawn therefrom.”
The Texas Appellate Court held: “Accordingly, we hold that respondent abused his discretion in ordering a new trial on the ground that the evidence is factually insufficient to support the jury’s finding.”
Source In Re: Frank Torres, M.D. and San Benito Medical Associates, Inc., Number 13-20-00237-CV.
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