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Huffines v. Buxton

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

February 27, 2018

DAVID W. HUFFINES, JANA LIL HUFFINES AND KATHLEEN MARIE HUFFINES, Appellants
v.
BARBARA BUXTON, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 295th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2012-39240.

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Donovan, and Jewell.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Tracy Christopher Justice

         This case began as a personal-injury lawsuit arising out of a minor car accident, but it turned into a wrongful-death action after the lead plaintiff committed suicide. The jury found in favor of the defendant, and now, in two issues, the surviving plaintiffs argue that the charge was erroneous and that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's adverse findings. Because we conclude that any charge error was harmless and that there is sufficient evidence to support the jury's findings, we overrule both issues and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The accident occurred when Barbara Buxton attempted to drive her vehicle across the divided thoroughfare that separated a shopping center from her residential subdivision. Barbara successfully crossed the eastbound lanes of the thoroughfare and entered the median, where she hoped to continue northbound into her subdivision. When she attempted to cross the westbound lanes, she was broadsided (or "t-boned") by David Huffines.

         There were no traffic lights at the intersection, and David had the right of way. He had been traveling in the outermost lane of the thoroughfare at around thirty-five miles per hour. When David saw Barbara enter the thoroughfare roughly five car lengths ahead of him, he slammed on his brakes, but his truck still made contact with the front passenger door of her car.

         Barbara and David pulled into the entrance of the subdivision to exchange information and assess the damage. Barbara found that her door was "smashed, " but according to her, "it wasn't that bad." David's truck endured minor damage to the bumper.

         As for bodily injuries, Barbara reported none and David said that he was "okay." No air bags deployed in the collision, and neither party required medical attention at the scene. Both parties drove away without obtaining a police report.

         David began to experience discomfort shortly after the accident. He felt pain in his neck, back, and groin, all locations where he had preexisting conditions. David underwent several medical procedures to alleviate the pain, including steroid injections and surgery, but his pain continued to worsen over time, which led to a substantial disruption of his daily routine. As the pain intensified, he told friends and family that he was beginning to contemplate suicide. During the pendency of this lawsuit, he took his own life.

         The lawsuit proceeded with claims made by David's wife and daughter.[1]During the trial, David's deposition testimony was read into evidence. David testified that he had been driving with a Thermos cup between his legs because his truck did not have cup holders. He also said that when the accident occurred, his body curled forward into the steering column, pressing the Thermos cup into his abdomen and groin.

         Barbara testified that she checked for oncoming traffic when she entered the median and that she decided to cross the westbound lanes because she believed that the thoroughfare was clear. She explained that she did not see David because this portion of the thoroughfare was flanked by shade trees; David's truck was dark green; and at that time of day, when shadows were falling on the thoroughfare, the truck appeared to be "camouflaged."

         Barbara's defense attorney elicited testimony about David's preexisting conditions from his surviving family members. The testimony established that David had inguinal hernia surgery seven years before his collision with Barbara. Eleven years before that, David was seriously injured in another collision, when he was hit head-on by a wrong-way driver who was intentionally trying to kill herself. David was ejected through his windshield in that accident, while still attached to his own seat, which broke loose from the floor bolts. He was temporarily paralyzed, having suffered severe damage to his neck and back.

         The trial court submitted two liability questions to the jury. The first asked whether Barbara's negligence, if any, proximately caused David's injuries up to the time of his death. The second asked whether Barbara's negligence, if any, proximately caused David's death. The jury answered both questions ...


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