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Escaped cows caused truck rollover, passenger alleged

Amount:

$8,900,000

Type:

Decision-Plaintiff

State:

Texas

Venue:

Dallas County

Court:

Dallas County District Court, 298th

Injury Type(s):

arm-fracture, humerus; back-fracture (fracture, T2), back (fracture, T2); back-fracture (fracture, T3), back (fracture, T3); back-fusion, thoracic; back-fracture (fracture, T2), vertebra (fracture, T2); back-fracture (fracture, T3), vertebra (fracture, T3); head; head-concussion; head-fracture, skull; neck-fracture (fracture, C2), neck (fracture, C2); neck-fracture (fracture, C3), neck (fracture, C3); neck-fracture (fracture, C4), neck (fracture, C4); neck-fracture (fracture, C5), neck (fracture, C5); neck-fracture (fracture, C6), neck (fracture, C6); neck-fracture (fracture, C7), neck (fracture, C7); neck-fusion, cervical; neck-fracture (fracture, C2), vertebra (fracture, C2); neck-fracture (fracture, C3), vertebra (fracture, C3); neck-fracture (fracture, C4), vertebra (fracture, C4); neck-fracture (fracture, C5), vertebra (fracture, C5); neck-fracture (fracture, C6), vertebra (fracture, C6); neck-fracture (fracture, C7), vertebra (fracture, C7); brain-coma; other-swelling; other-unconsciousness; other-closed reduction; other-physical therapy; other-pins/rods/screws; other-hardware implanted; other-decreased range of motion; other-scar and/or disfigurement; shoulder-fracture (fracture, scapula), shoulder (fracture, scapula); shoulder-fracture (fracture, clavicle), shoulder (fracture, clavicle); neurological-brachial plexus; surgeries/treatment-laminectomy; surgeries/treatment-open reduction; surgeries/treatment-internal fixation; mental/psychological-depression; mental/psychological-emotional distress; mental/psychological-post-concussion syndrome

Case Type:

Motor Vehicle - Rollover, Passenger, Single Vehicle; Premises Liability - Dangerous Condition, Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Bobby Tunnell v. Rachel Andrew, Ruthie Andrew Grant, Richard Archer, Archer Farms LLC, Donnie Trammel, Reba Cattle LLC, and Ruth E. Archer, No. DC-12-08161

Date:

December 5, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Bobby Tunnell (Male, 45 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Dean Boyd; Attorney Dean Boyd; Amarillo, TX, for Bobby Tunnell ■ Leighton Durham; Kelly, Durham & Pittard, L.L.P.; Dallas, TX, for Bobby Tunnell

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Bob Kingsbery; Fences; Frisco, TX called by: Dean Boyd ■ Wayne Paullus Jr.; M.D.; Neurosurgery; Amarillo, TX called by: Dean Boyd

Defendant(s):

Rachel Andrew, 

Donnie Trammel, 

Richard Archer, 

Ruth E. Archer, 

Reba Cattle LLC, 

Archer Farms LLC, 

Ruthie Andrew Grant

Defense Attorney(s):

Jonathan Jefferson-Bearrie; Jonathan Jefferson-Bearrie, Esquire; Austin, TX, for Richard Archer, Archer Farms LLC ■ None reported; for Rachel Andrew, Donnie Trammel, Ruth E. Archer, Reba Cattle LLC, Ruthie Andrew Grant

Facts:

On Aug. 3, 2011, plaintiff Bobby Tunnell, 45, a self-employed carpenter, was involved in a rollover accident on north Dovell Road outside Amarillo. Tunnell was a front-seat passenger in a truck driven by his son, with his grandchildren sitting in the back seat, when they came upon five or six cows in the road. Tunnell's son slammed the brakes and struck two cows, which caused the truck to roll eight times, coming to rest upright. As the truck caught fire, Tunnell's son and a passerby extracted him from the truck and moved about 10 yards away before it exploded. Tunnell sustained multiple severe injuries. No one else was injured in the crash. The cows had escaped from a nearby property owned by Richard Archer and Archer Farms LLC. Tunnell sued Archer and Archer Farms, alleging that they were negligent in allowing the cows to escape the property. Rachel Andrew, Ruthie Andrew Grant, Reba Cattle LLC and Ruth Archer -- all believed, at one time, to own the property -- were also sued, and later dismissed prior to trial. Ranch-hand Donnie Trammel was also sued and later dismissed. According to Tunnell, the accident happened at night on a pitch-black road with no lights and a speed limit of 55 mph during one of the area's worst droughts, which prompted cows to wander for water. According to the rancher and affidavits from neighbors, an accident had occurred just days prior, in which a vehicle struck a cow that had wandered off Archer's property. Tunnell's fence expert opined that Archer violated the county's closed-range policy, which prohibited livestock from roaming wherever they pleased, by failing to use proper fencing to secure the cows and prevent them from escaping the property. Archer Farms, approximately 140 acres with 30 to 40 cows, was secured by a single-strand hotwire fence. For about $400, Archer could have easily installed five-strand barbwire fencing around the property, the expert said. Archer denied any liability in causing the accident. Defense counsel maintained that an open-range policy existed in the county which allowed the cows to wander at will.

Injury:

Tunnell was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He was diagnosed with a concussion; a skull fracture; brain swelling; a right (dominant) humeral fracture; a right clavicle fracture; a right scapular fracture; fractures at cervical intervertebral discs C2, C3, C4, C5, C6 and C7; fractures and dislocations at T2 and T3; and a brachial plexus injury. Tunnell was placed in a medically-induced coma, and remained unconscious for 20 days. He underwent a laminectomy at T3, segmental stabilization from C4 to T5 with lateral mass fusion from C4 to T5, an intramedullary nail was inserted into his right arm, an open reduction and internal fixation was performed on his clavicle, and he underwent a closed reduction of his right scapular. Tunnell was discharged home 24 days later. Due to lack of medical coverage, he received no further treatment. He sought to recover approximately $704,000 in outstanding medical costs. Tunnell's surgeon discussed his injuries and surgeries, and opined that he will have ongoing problems and will require spinal surgeries to address the stress the surrounding discs, which were not injured in the accident, will sustain. He sought to approximately $300,000 in future medical costs. Tunnell testified that he is seriously impaired as a result of the accident. He is unable to turn his neck, which requires him to shift his body, and has diminished dexterity and motor skills in his right hand. He has difficulties performing simple acts of daily living, including zipping up his pants. He further discussed his emotional distress, which includes bouts of anger and depression. His son and his father testified about his condition and limitations. Tunnell maintained that he was permanently disabled, and sought to recover $75,000 in past lost earnings and $375,000 in future lost earnings. He sought $1 million in past pain and suffering, $1.5 million for future pain and suffering, $1.5 million for mental anguish and $2.5 million for disfigurement. Tunnell further sought to recover punitive damages, arguing that Archer's actions were willful and reckless. Archer's counsel maintained that Archer was not responsible for Tunnell's injuries.

Result:

The court ruled in favor of Tunnell and awarded $8.9 million.

Bobby Tunnell: $700,000 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $300,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $2,500,000 Personal Injury: disfigurment; $1,400,000 Personal Injury: lost earnings; $2,500,000 Personal Injury: pain and suffering; $1,500,000 Personal Injury: mental anguish

Trial Information:

Judge:

Emily G. Tobolowsky

Trial Length:

1  days

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls. Rachel Andrew, Ruthie Andrew Grant, Donnie Trammel, Reba Cattle LLC and Ruth E. Archer were not asked to contribute.