$8 Million Jury Award Overturned by Courts

19-year-old's accident left her with permanent brain damage.

Scott Clearman, lead attorney for Michelle, appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case. They've filed a desperate, last-ditch motion for a rehearing, and take hope in the fact that in last week's Supreme Court list of rejected cases, Michelle's wasn't on it.

Six years after her accident, Michelle Gaines, the prom queen of her high school her senior year, the girl with a 3.9 GPA whose father thought she would make a good game warden, who had a soccer scholarship to Hill College and was everybody's best friend, is now a 26-year-old woman living at home with her dad on a daily regimen of physical therapy, computer games and medicine that gives her the shakes but keeps away the seizures and the migraines, who writes down most of her moments because otherwise they'll be lost by her betraying brain.

She walks with a limp, and with her depth perception off, she approaches objects like a kitchen table with arms outstretched, a person trying not to get hurt. She used to be ready to try anything; now almost everything is too scary.

Michelle Gaines ran all the time, and played volleyball and soccer in high school.
Margaret Downing
Michelle Gaines ran all the time, and played volleyball and soccer in high school.
Michelle Gaines still hopes to live on her own and to regain her vision.
Margaret Downing
Michelle Gaines still hopes to live on her own and to regain her vision.

She'll tell you her blessing. "It's a blessing I'm alive." And as much as that is true, it's also painfully difficult to accept that unless the Texas Supreme Court changes its mind, that's as good as it'll get for the foreseeable future in a state that above all prides itself on its business sense.

According to Scott Clearman, lead attorney for Michelle, there is long-standing case law that "if someone does something to cover up an act, that it can be concluded by a jury that they did the act. Let's say you bury bloody clothes from a murder scene. Well, you had to have some reason to bury them. A jury can infer you have something to do with the murder."

And according to Clearman, Texas appeals courts are the only courts in this or any other state that are not acknowledging the validity of jurors rendering a verdict after hearing convincing circumstantial evidence.

What also boggles his mind, he says, is that even though Adkinson and Pritchett both made and remade their stories after caught out in inconsistencies and outright lies during trial, the Court of Appeals chose to take their testimony about their lack of a business relationship as gospel.

The way he sees it, the appeals court's decision gives a green light to anyone who wants to buy his way out of a case.

On the day of the wreck, Adkinson was transporting the rig to Pritchett's yard outside Corpus Christi, although investigators didn't figure this out for a while. Adkinson and Pritchett had talked about "blueprinting" the wreck. After the wreck, the rig was impounded in Tyler and then released to Pritchett's yard. Once there, it was inspected once by Clearman and another attorney, who immediately afterward added Pritchett to their lawsuit. They set up a later appointment for an expert to inspect the rig, but that never happened.

"An inspection was scheduled and they canceled it," Grace points out. She says Pritchett's attorneys notified Michelle's attorneys that Adkinson had decided to pick up his rig. She said Pritchett had no right to stop him. And she says Michelle's attorneys "didn't seek any relief from the court to stop him."

Clearman doesn't see it quite that way. He says Michelle's attorneys had canceled because their expert couldn't make it that day and were in the process of setting up another appointment. But the rig was not only moved, it was cut up into three parts and hauled away. Evidence gone.

But that was all a moot point anyway to the Court of Appeals, which noted: "Even assuming Pritchett is partially responsible for Adkinson's destruction of the rig, nothing on the rig could show whether Pritchett and Adkinson had an equal right to control the enterprise months earlier."

Steve Norris was jury foreman on Michelle's case and he just really doesn't understand or accept the jurors' work being overturned by the Court of Appeals. "The judge, any time you're on jury duty, says it's your civic duty to be on jury duty and if you're not there...they're going to send the deputy sheriff out to find you."

Told that Pritchett's attorney, Grace, had made the point that a court is better than a jury at understanding the legal requirements of what constitutes a joint enterprise, Norris suggested that then perhaps the appeals court should hear every trial and maybe meet the people who testify.

"We took all the information very serious and did the best job we could, and we all came to a unanimous decision. We were there for four days hearing everything. Mr. Adkinson, he was really a jerk. He was so obnoxious the judge had to tell him several times to quiet down or she was going to remove him from the court," Norris recalls.

"I don't know about the other jurors but at the first, I wasn't really sure Mr. Pritchett had any connections at all, but after you hear all the information presented to you, toward the end I made up my mind that Mr. Pritchett was involved in all this."

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I think everyone looked better in high school. Sob story. "She's paying everyday." pft, I'm sure.

mediabeing like.author.displayName 1 Like

I say let new precedent be set!  The argument suggests that the oil industry will die if wheelers and dealers are held responsible for their business doings. Balderdash! 

This overturning of jury award is in keeping with the vile de-regulation movement. 

The dishonest greedy folks better wake up, before it's too late.

Houstonian like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Texas has one of the worst court system in US.  Judges are all incompetent and corrupt and only after a campaign contribution for their re-election.  They don't care about people and they never will care for people like Michelle.  Texas legal system is slowing becoming an arm pit of US jurisprudence.  

PolarBearQ like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The texas suprme court has an almost unbelievable bias against individuals which it routinely sacrifices upon an alter composed of Texas citizens.  The statitistics are startling.  The supreme court routinely finds for corporate interests 80% of the time over individuals.  Recently, it held that worker's compensation claimants have virtually no recourse against their insurance companies, even when the insurer wholly fails to investigate a claim or if they deny a claim with no basis whatsovever.  This will not change until citizensa and voters begin to demand change.  We were sold a line about trials being bad because they supposedly dealt out jackpot justice. In reality its the justices that hit the jackpot.  Flush with campaign contributions, the odds are so skewed in the corporate houses favor with their blackrobed dealers that the little guy has hardly any chance at all.  I'm sorry Michelle. 

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