Partner Connie Pfeiffer in Law360 and Texas Lawyer

Texas Justices Order New Trial In $9.6M Oil Rig Injury Case

  • March 5, 2018

Citing the improper exclusion of video evidence that showed an injured oil rig worker performing manual labor, the Supreme Court of Texas on Friday reversed a $9.6 million jury verdict against Beck Redden clients Diamond Offshore Services Ltd and Diamond Offshore Services Company.  The case is Diamond Offshore Services Ltd. et al v. Willie David Williams, cause number 16-0434, in the Supreme Court of Texas.

The video, which shows the plaintiff engaging in a variety of physical activities outdoors, was offered by Diamond Offshore at trial to counter the plaintiff’s claims of severe back pain and diminished physical ability.  The trial court excluded the video before trial without having watched it, then stood by the ruling each time Diamond Offshore offered the video during trial.  The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, awarding roughly $9.6 million for lost earning capacity, medical expenses, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and physical impairment.

The Supreme Court reversed the verdict, holding that trial court abused its discretion by excluding the video.  In doing so, the Court provided significant guidance about the application of Texas Rule of Evidence 403 in civil trials.  First, the Court agreed with Diamond Offshore that “as a general rule, a trial court should view video evidence before ruling on admissibility when the contents of the video are at issue.”  Second, the Court held that the video should not have been excluded because the risks of dangers identified by Rule 403 did not substantially outweigh the probative value. 

As the first opinion from the Supreme Court of Texas addressing the admissibility of video evidence under Rule of Evidence 403, the decision will have lasting, significant consequences for Texas civil practice.  “This ruling is good for both sides of the bar,” said Beck Redden partner and lead appellate counsel Connie Pfeiffer.  “It will help plaintiffs and defendants alike get highly probative visual evidence before the jury. Trials are meant to be a search for truth, and we can absorb so much more with our eyes than with our ears.  Giving juries visual evidence is much more powerful and helpful than testimony alone.”

Beck Redden partner Connie Pfeiffer argued the appeal and collaborated on the briefing with partner David M. Gunn and appellate associate Kyle Lawrence.  Trial counsel were T. Patrick Baynham and Steven K. Best, of Baynham Best, L.L.C.

Excerpted from Law360 and Texas Lawyer. To read the full Law360 article, click here.  To read the full Texas Lawyer article, click here.