After the law was changed, courts have allowed defendants to designate parties who were immune to lawsuits as responsible third parties. In turn, the plaintiff’s opportunity to obtain a portion of damages they sought has been negated.
Tyler, Texas (PRWEB) July 14, 2012
Attorney Randell “Randy” C. Roberts of the Roberts & Roberts East Texas personal injury firm and his son, Justin Roberts, a Texas Supreme Court law clerk, recently collaborated on an article published in the prestigious St. Mary’s Law Journal.
The article is entitled, “Can Immune Parties Really Be Responsible? An Analysis of the Current Interpretation of the Texas Responsible Third Party Statute and Its Vulnerability to Constitutional Challenge.”
It appears in Volume 43, Issue 3 of the St. Mary’s Law Journal, which is one of the most frequently cited law reviews in the country.
The piece examines whether a key provision of the state’s Responsible Third Party (RTP) statute is being interpreted incorrectly in cases such as Texas personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death claims.
The RTP statute, as amended in 2003, gives lawsuit defendants the opportunity to designate a “responsible third party.” When the defendants do so, it allows a jury to apportion responsibility for the plaintiff’s damages to parties who were not originally joined in the lawsuit.
“After the law was changed, courts have allowed defendants to designate parties who were immune to lawsuits as responsible third parties,” said Randy Roberts, a veteran Tyler personal injury lawyer who practices in the Tyler-Longview region of East Texas. “In turn, the plaintiff’s opportunity to obtain a portion of damages they sought has been negated.”
In the article, Roberts and Roberts argue that the RTP statute may not actually authorize defendants to designate most immune non-parties as a responsible third party. To the extent this practice is authorized, they suggest the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution constrain any resulting imbalance of responsibility.
The two attorneys contend that due process and Texas’ “open courts provision,” which guards against limits to a person’s access to “remedy by due course of law,” may prohibit designating immune non-parties as responsible third parties in personal injury lawsuits.
“Apportioning responsibility first requires a finding that there was a violation of the applicable legal standard,” the article contends. “So how can someone (who is legally immune) be responsible if he has no liability?
“If a defendant has a complete defense as a matter of law, a jury should never have the opportunity to assign that defendant a percentage of responsibility.”
Randy Roberts also suggests that nothing in the text of the RTP indicates that the legislature intended to allow immune non-parties to be designated and assigned a percentage of responsibility in lawsuits.
If a third-party defendant is identified, their absence from the courtroom poses problems of due process, the article says. How can an absent party face the accuser and defend itself?
“The jury might erroneously suspect that the non-party has greater responsibility simply because the non-party did not show up to defend itself,” the authors say. “Moreover, a jury might assign a disproportionate percentage of responsibility to the designated non-party as a compromise between those jurors siding with either the plaintiff or the defendant. The jury might even assume that the non-party is not in court because it has already entered into a generous settlement with the plaintiff.”
In the end, “Construing the RTP statute to not allow the designation of most immune non-parties would ensure that the statute survives most constitutional challenges,” the two attorneys conclude.
Randy Roberts is board-certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is a frequent lecturer at advanced personal injury seminars.
His son, Justin, serves as a law clerk for Justice Paul Green with the Supreme Court of Texas. Justin Roberts received his law degree in 2011 from St. Mary’s University School of Law, where he served as Editor in Chief of the St. Mary’s Law Journal.
About Roberts & Roberts
Roberts & Roberts is an East Texas personal injury firm with a history of helping injured people across the United States. Most of the firm’s attorneys are board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in personal injury law or civil trial law. They have been featured numerous times by national and local media outlets, including MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, Time, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. The firm’s practice areas include auto, truck and motorcycle accidents; defective products; workplace accidents; premises liability claims; oilfield accidents and more.
Roberts & Roberts represents clients from across Texas and throughout the country, with a particular focus on the communities of Waco, Beaumont, Longview, Lufkin, Texarkana, Tyler, Huntsville, Nacogdoches, Greenville, Paris, Corsicana, Marshall, Palestine, Mount Pleasant, Sulphur Springs, Jacksonville, Athens, Henderson, Commerce, Jasper, Crockett, Carthage, Mexia, Marlin, Atlanta, Center, Livingston, Canton, Rusk, Lindale, Gilmer, Teague, Mineola, Pittsburg, Groesbeck, Mount Vernon and Quitman.
The firm’s office is located at 118 West 4th Street, Tyler, Texas, 75701-4000. To learn more about the Texas personal injury lawyers of Roberts & Roberts, call (888) 398-7618 or use the firm’s online contact form.