Last week the Texas Supreme Court abated Toyota Motor Corporation v. Reavis (No. 21-0575) pending the approval of a settlement agreement between the parties by a Dallas County distrift court. In October TCJL filed an amicus brief asking the Texas Supreme Court to grant review in the case, which resulted in a mega-verdict against the manufacturer. As you may recall, the case arose from a 2002 accident on North Central Expressway in Dallas. While stopped in traffic, plaintiffs’ Toyota Lexus was struck from behind by a Honda SUV traveling at between 45 and 48 m.p.h. The collision pushed the plaintiff’s vehicle into the vehicle in front before the Honda struck the Lexus again at a slower speed. During the chain reaction, the plaintiffs’ seatbacks deformed, causing the plaintiffs to slip up and back into the back seats, a response to a rear-end collision called “ramping.” The plaintiffs’ heads collided with the heads of their 5 and 3-year-old children, who were secured in car seats. As a result, the children sustained severe traumatic brain injuries, though their parents suffered only minor injuries.
The plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of their minor children against Toyota, the Toyota dealer that sold them the vehicle, and the driver of the Honda SUV. They alleged design and marketing defect claims against Toyota and the dealer, negligence against the driver, and gross negligence against all defendants. After a three-week trial, the jury found Toyota liable on the design and marketing claims, the dealer liable on the marketing claim, and the driver liable for negligence. It awarded more than $98 million in actual damages (including future medical) and apportioned 90% of the fault to Toyota. It also found Toyota and the dealer grossly negligent and awarded punitive damages of nearly $110 million, $95.4 million of which charged to Toyota. Plaintiffs settled with the driver during jury deliberations, so these amounts reflect the application of the settlement credit. The trial court denied Toyota’s motions for a directed verdict, a verdict JNOV, and a new trial. The Dallas Court of Appeals, in an opinion we believed rife with reversible error, affirmed.
TCJL’s brief focused on two issues: (1) the court of appeals’ ruling on the specificity of evidence required to rebut the presumption of non-liability if a product complies with applicable government safety standards (§82.008, CPRC); and (2) the court of appeals’ explicit approval of reptile theory trial tactics that sought to demonize a corporate defendant using highly prejudicial, inflammatory, and irrelevant evidence. Although the litigation ultimately settled without SCOTX granting review, the issues we asked the Court to consider will undoubtedly arise in the future.