- the trial court erred in denying the defendants a directed verdict,
- the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the verdict, and
- the trial court erred in omitting requested language in the charge and in the issue submitted to the jury.
The jury charge in this case was taken from the Federal Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions. It appears that the employer of a worker-plaintiff has the primary duty to provide the worker with a safe place to work, but working conditions can get so obviously dangerous that ship's personnel would have a duty to intervene to protect the worker. The trial judge left out a part of the pattern jury instruction that commented on this point of law, so the appeals court reversed and remanded.
In this case defense counsel failed to follow Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 276. "When an instruction, question, or definition is requested and the provisions of the law have been complied with and the trial judge refuses the same, the judge shall endorse thereon 'Refused,' and sign the same officially." The appellate court refused the complaints about the first two instances of omitted language on the ground that defendants waived error by failing to follow Tex. R. Civ. P. 276. However, the appeals court held that the defendants so clearly complained about the third omission that they would take cognizance of it, and reverse and remand on the basis of it.
In the appeals court's defense, the defendants basically said, "Put that employer/shipowner responsibility sentence that's in the pattern jury charge in the jury charge. The writers of the pattern jury charge thought it was needed for the benefit of the jury to make a proper decision," Even to me, that seems an unambiguous complaint.
I have one practice tip, one personal note and one observation. The practice tip is that when you are following a pattern jury charge, it is rarely a good idea to get the trial judge to leave out a part unfavorable to you even when you can. Appeals court justices who see a part of a pattern jury charge omitted which clearly favors one side over the other presume that that part was left out unfairly. Unless you can show comparable changes that help the other side or an elaborate explanation why under statute or case law that part of the pattern jury charge is grossly wrong, they will assume that the omission is a cheat.
The personal note is that Justice Johnson's prose style is a pleasure to read-- first rate. I look forward to years of clear reading of this court's opinions in the years ahead.
The observation is that I have no radical objection to the process used to come to this decision. The informality was allowed when a stevedore won a damage award of more than one million dollars against a ship and its manager. I have a concern that the informalities are much less likely to be overlooked when it is a personal injury plaintiff who needs it or a criminal defendant or a respondent in a sexually violent predator civil-commitment case.
Irika Shipping S.A. v. Henderson, No. 09-13-100237-CV, (Tex. App.--Beaumont Dec. 18, 2014, no pet. h.) (mem. op.) available at http://www.search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=56e3dc6f-a22a-4689-bf45-806b8c5e2bac&coa=coa09&DT=Opinion&MediaID=53ca95bf-7d0c-4c9a-8c3d-193e6b9fd17f