In-court Drama Breaks out After the Review of an Overturned $9 Million Jury Verdict is Denied

A Texas appeals court recently denied the review of a panel decision that had overturned a multimillion-dollar jury verdict in favor of the relatives of a decedent who passed away due to asbestos exposure.  The denial of review sparked a verbal altercation between justices in regard to whether the precedent is a predilection against the verdict of a jury. 

The request for reconsideration of the panel’s decision to overturn a nearly $9 million negligence verdict was denied by Dallas’s Fifth Court of Appeals.  The verdict was issued against Bell Helicopter Textron.  Jury members determined the company negligently exposed employee William Dickson to asbestos, failing to provide the necessary safety protocols.

About the Asbestos Exposure Award

Dickson invested decades of his professional career creating and testing Bell Helicopter Textron enclosures.  Sadly, this hardworking man passed away in 2013 due to mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure.  As a result, his family sued Bell Helicopter Textron for negligence.  However, five judges ended up dissenting from the denial.  Justice Cory Carlyle wrote the panel from 2019 reformulated the trial burden, placing it squarely on Dickson’s relatives. 

Furthermore, Carlyle wrote that evidence supporting the verdict was ignored.  Carlyle insisted the panel recharacterized essential evidence, using it to create the impression that the plaintiff’s insufficient knowledge regarding his exposure to asbestos resulted in inadequate basis for the opinion of a key expert witness.  Carlyle insisted anyone who read the opinion of the panel would not understand there were witnesses or evidence aside from that described by the panel.  The Justice stressed meaningful additional evidence existed yet was not properly considered.

A Question of Negligence

An additional five judges joined a concurrence stating the rehearing’s denial was appropriate.  These judges also complained that one of the justices from the ’19 panel, Bill Whitehill, claimed the dissenting opinion suggestion that the court had an inherent predilection in opposition to jury verdicts.  Whitehill strongly defended the decision made by the panel, insisting that there was evidence showing Bell had knowledge that asbestos exposure could prove dangerous yet there was insufficient evidence to show Bell Helicopter knew the fiberboards the plaintiff worked with on a daily basis contained asbestos.  Whitehill insisted the dissenting opinion critiqued the panel’s reliance on evidence yet did not attempt to fill the gaps in evidence, ultimately rendering the decision unjust.

Was Important Testimony Ignored?

This dissent stated the panel did not take critically important testimony from a Bell Helicopter corporate representative into account.  This testimony, provided at trial, stated the company knew years prior to Dickson’s employment, that the company was exposing workers to asbestos.  The testimony also revealed the company failed to adhere to safety standards as detailed by the law. 

Justice Carlyle could not explain why his conclusion was so different than that of the ’19 panel.  Carlyle stated the appellate court should not retry cases in the position of jurors.  Rather, the court should review cases brought to their attention.  Carlyle insists the appellate court’s purpose is to:

  • Remedy clear wrongdoings in the judicial system
  • Defer to determinations made by juries
  • Facilitate jury trials

As a result, Carlyle dissented from the en banc review denial as the court failed in the forementioned capacity.  In this dissent, the justice referred to a series of previous rulings handed down from the Fifth Court of Appeals, insisting he misapplied the review standards necessary for legal sufficiency.  All in all, the judge’s footnote explaining the basis for dissent spanned the entirety of two pages.  Carlyle insists he had no intention of accusing previous court justices of being biased.  The concurring judges questioned what the logic was in bringing up earlier cases.  Even if the court decided properly on the four cases in question, there would not be a point in criticizing them when doing so would have no influence on whether the panel decided the Dickson Vs. Bell case brought before those judges. 

The judges also questioned the basis for insinuating the court was prejudiced against verdicts decided by juries when their prior decisions show they properly applied the law without even the slightest bias.  It is interesting to note Justice Bill Pederson III did not concur or dissent yet stood in favor of denial.  Furthermore, Justices Erin A. Nowell and Ken Molberg did not participate in the decision.

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