Sometimes, statutes can be inconsistent (or even contradictory). In Texas, for example, Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (“CPRC”) determines the amount owed by each Defendant. Two statutes in particular codified in the CPRC can greatly reduce a Plaintiff’s recovery. However, as will be shown here, the two statutes can’t be construed together, according to a 2006 opinion from the Texarkana Court of Appeals.
- 33.012: Amount of Recovery
Section 33.012 determines a Plaintiff’s amount of recovery. As discussed in a previous blog, a Plaintiff in Texas is only entitled to a recovery in the event he or she is 50% or less at fault in the accident (that number is slightly different in Arkansas, where the Plaintiff is barred from recovery if a jury finds him or her 50% at fault). However, 33.012 goes on to say that the Plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by a percentage equal to the Plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
Subsection (b) of that same statute states that if the Plaintiff has settled with one or more people, the court shall further reduce the amount of damages to be recovered by the claimant with respect to a cause of action by the sum of the dollar amounts of all settlements.
- 33.013: Amount of Liability
Section 33.013 deals with the amount of liability for each Defendant and states that “liable defendant is liable to a claimant only for the percentage of damages found by the trier of fact equal to that defendant’s percentage of responsibility with respect to the personal injury, property damage, death, or other harm for which damages are allowed.”
On its face, this seems very favorable for Defendants, particularly if they are entitled to stack these two statutes and construe them together. However, hold the phone! Thanks to the Texas Court of Appeals in Texarkana, that cannot occur.
These two sections “do not reference each other or otherwise require that they be used sequentially to reduce recoveries, in the manner urged by[defendant]….[they] simply appear to set up independent limits of recovery and liability… ” says the court in Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. v. Cernat, 205 S.W.3d 110 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2006, pet. denied). Therefore, if a case involves a settling defendant, it can’t be assumed that the settlement credit in 33.012(b) will apply to reduce a defendant’s responsibility. As seen here, a jury’s decision can require some in-depth analysis to determine the Plaintiff’s recovery.
For these reasons, it is imperative to hire a veteran litigator and experienced trial lawyer who has been involved in cases just like yours.