MAY 26, 2009
The Texas Supreme Court is being asked to overturn a multi million-dollar verdict against a large company because jurors were improperly told that the gravel truck driver who killed four family members is an illegal immigrant.
Revealing the driver’s immigration status at trail was intended to inflame jurors with prejudicial and irrelevant information, according to attorneys for the Dallas cement hauling company (TXI Transportation Co. v. Hughes). In 2002 the illegal immigrant, driving one of the company’s trucks, drifted into the opposite lane of a Ft. Worth highway and struck a sports utility vehicle occupied by five family members returning from Christmas shopping.
The family’s vehicle scraped along the truck’s side until it emerged spinning and skidding into the path of a full-size pickup, according to news reports. A one-year-old strapped to a car seat was the lone survivor. Family attorneys said the immigration information was presented in court to illustrate that the driver—previously deported and using a fake Social Security—did not have the commercial driver’s license required to operate the truck and that the company did not properly investigate his driving record.
A state appellate court upheld the jury verdict, including the mention of the driver as an illegal immigrant, and now the Texas Supreme Court will rule on the case. During oral arguments at least one Supreme Court Justice revealed that the driver’s legal status should not have been mentioned at trial.
Sarcastically claiming that “the so-called illegal immigrant is the cause of all of society’s problems” Justice David Medina believes the jury was informed of the driver’s immigration status to let it know that “we have an illegal alien over here who may have caused this horrible, horrendous accident and we want you to punish him and disregard the facts.”
For the family to keep its $15.8 million award, the majority of the Supreme Court’s nine justices must find that the driver’s illegal status was in fact relevant and not simply an appeal to racial prejudice.
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