Personal injury lawyers have known for many years now that the Texas appellate courts are generally stacked in favor of corporations and insurance companies. Gradually, other people are becoming aware of that fact also — including journalists. There was a revealing article on this topic recently in the Dallas Morning News. Here are excerpts:
Appeals court judges in Texas are increasingly hostile to jury verdicts in civil cases, especially when the jurors rule in favor of plaintiffs, according to a new study.
The report, which examined a full year of decisions in 2010-11 by the state’s 14 courts of appeals, found that the judges reverse more than one-third of all civil jury verdicts and that they are more likely to overturn jury verdicts that favor plaintiffs than verdicts favoring defendants.
Even in nonjury cases, the Texas appellate court reversal rate of lower court judgments favoring plaintiffs was double that of decisions favoring defendants.
The study, conducted by two appellate lawyers at Haynes and Boone, found the Texas appellate judges have an overall reversal rate of 49 percent when they review cases that the plaintiff won in the trial court and the defendant appealed. But those same judges reversed only 25 percent of the cases in which the defendant prevailed at trial and the plaintiff appealed.
The Texas courts of appeals reversed 50 percent of the jury verdicts that favor plaintiffs in consumer fraud and general tort cases, but the judges overturned only 11 percent of the jury verdicts that favored defendants, according to the study, titled “Reasons for Reversal in the Texas Courts of Appeal.”
In personal injury cases, including allegations of wrongful death, the disparity was even larger. Appellate judges reversed 7 percent of the jury verdicts that favored defendants, but they reversed 44 percent of the jury verdicts that decided for plaintiffs. (Emphasis added)
The new study shows that appellate courts today are more likely to reverse jury verdicts than they were nine years ago, 34 percent now compared with 25 percent then. This follows the recent report by The Texas Lawbook that the number of civil jury trials conducted in Texas has plummeted by more than 65 percent during the past 15 years.
In 2003, the state Legislature enacted significant changes limiting the amount of damages for pain and suffering that plaintiffs could recover in medical malpractice cases. Lawmakers also made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in product liability cases.
As a result, Rutter said, lawyers who represent plaintiffs were more strategic about picking their appellate battles, filing 39 percent fewer appeals than in the period before lawsuit reform.
By focusing on their best cases, they should have experienced greater success if everything else was equal, Rutter said.
But that didn’t happen.
“Even though they are being a lot more selective and they are appealing only their strongest cases, they still don’t have a very good track record on appeal,” Rutter said.