Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Michelle Gaines Case, $8 Million Judgment Remains Overturned

Categories: Courts

michelle gaines1026.jpg
Photo by Margaret Downing
Michelle Gaines doesn't have a whole lot of options left.
The Texas Supreme Court today rejected the appeal by Michelle Gaines, the Palestine, Texas woman we wrote about in August who as a teenager was broadsided by an 18-wheeler with no brakes and suffered extensive lasting brain injuries.

Initially a jury had awarded Gaines more than $8 million in damages and levied these against Kenneth Woodworth, the driver of the tractor-trailer -- who had had no driver's license for six years (let alone a commercial one) and admitted he "had done some methamphetamines" the day before he inspected the brakes on the trailer he was pulling. They found against Benny Joe Adkinson, Woodworth's employer and the owner of the rig.

The jury also found against Joseph Pritchett, a businessman with lots in Robstown and Conroe who buys and sells new and old oilfield equipment, who'd had a lot of deals with Adkinson over the years and who, Michelle's attorneys say, had entered into a joint enterprise with Adkinson to use this particular rig as a template for other rigs they'd produce and sell. Pritchett, who was added later in the case, was the only one with any real money.

However, after Pritchett filed an appeal arguing there was no proof of any joint enterprise, the 12th Court of Appeals sided with him and overturned the judgment.

The appeals court ruled that Michelle's attorneys had failed to prove that Pritchett had any control over the drilling rig and what Adkinson had done with it, even though the first person Adkinson called after the wreck was Pritchett. They said Pritchett didn't owe a penny; he'd had nothing to do with the accident. It was a sad situation, his attorney Jennifer Grace says, but he's not responsible.

The key point, according to Grace, was that setting a precedent by allowing Pritchett to be held liable would have a devastating effect on business in Texas. "If this were allowed to impose liability, it would forever change the business landscape in Texas. Anybody that was in business with somebody else could potentially be responsible for their acts that they had no control over."

Attorney Scott Clearman, who took over Gaines's case, appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

Michelle's main caregiver is Mike Gaines, who has said that he wanted the money so his daughter, now in her late 20s, could get better treatment and so her needs could be met after his death.

Unless the Texas Supreme Court reconsiders, Michelle will probably have to go to a state facility after her father's death.


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