$8 Million Jury Award Overturned by Courts

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

Mike will tell you that pre-accident, his daughter "was no angel," that, in fact, he practiced tough love at one point, taking away her car and selling it, and kicking her out of the house because he felt she was partying too much. "But we had made up just before the wreck. She come back around and decided she wanted to go to college."

The night that Michelle was rushed to the emergency room, at least 100 of her friends were there, her father says. Now, there's only one.

Liz McDonald Smith played midfielder to Michelle's right wing on the soccer team. Smith was able to go on to a soccer scholarship at Sam Houston State, but she kept in touch with Michelle, although even she says it was hard at first with the changes her friend underwent. She understands why other friends got caught up with their own lives and families and left Michelle behind.

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.

"People just hurt seeing her like that," she says. "I always thought when she woke up, it'd be back to Michelle. Finally I came to and figured she would be there for me no matter."

Smith remembers her friend's aggressiveness and quickness on the soccer field. She'd like Michelle to try to volunteer for the soccer program at her old high school. "Whether she maybe down the road will be able to have a job, I'm not sure if she will." Michelle tried to sit in on a history class and take notes; the bright lights and noise brought on a migraine.

Smith has just started a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/JusticeForMichelleGaines#!/JusticeForMichelleGaines) and is selling "Support Michelle Gaines" wristbands at her small furniture store in Palestine, Three Peaches (threepeaches123.blogspot.com/2011/02/palestine.html).

Michelle's sister-in-law, Jennifer Gaines, quit her job to go to work for Mike helping take care of Michelle, driving her to doctors' appointments and making sure she takes her meds and does her exercises. But Michelle tires quickly, she says. It took her six months to persuade Michelle to try swimming. "She just doesn't remember that she knows how to swim."

During high school Michelle ran all the time, Jennifer says, and could eat anything. Now her brain often misses the "full" signal and an hour after eating, she can forget she ever sat down to a meal. She has a stationary bicycle, an ab machine and a treadmill in an at-home workout room, but doesn't always want to use them.

Of course, as so often happens, there's been collateral damage. When Michelle had her accident, her mother was still married to her father and was there by her side at the hospital. But three years ago, her mother walked out and hasn't been back since, according to Mike. Michelle's accident wasn't the only reason, but it was the final stressor. Fifty-four-year-old Mike got married again this past December, and six months later began divorce proceedings. "If her own mother couldn't take the situation, it's hard for another woman to come in and do it. I basically just give my life to Michelle."

Michelle, her sister-in-law says, dreams of a husband, children and a house, living independently of her dad. Her dad says she can't be trusted alone for more than an hour at a time. "I used to go over to friends' houses three to four nights a week and have dinner and drinks. I went fishing and hunting, but now I basically stay home with Michelle in the evenings and weekends."

They did get $100,000 initially from the Crime Victim's Assistance fund, but that's almost all gone now with doctors' visits and rehab treatments, Mike says. Medicare and Medicaid cover some things, not all. In the first months, the people of Anderson County raised money to help the Gaineses with housing and gas so Mike and his wife could stay close to their daughter.

"The lawsuit, some people think it was just for Michelle to get rich. It's not for that," Mike says. "It's for medical. We all know if you go in the hospital and you've got money, you're going to get the best help there is. Or you can go to the best hospitals. My dream has always been to take her to Chicago; they got the No. 1 head trauma center in the world. Maybe they got technology up there we haven't heard about."

The Court of Appeals said that Pritchett's case should never even have gone to the jury. Clearman says he can't believe that "bribery and destruction of evidence and fabrication of evidence" is being tolerated in Texas civil courts.

Michelle Gaines gets up every day and tries to remember what other people have said her life was. If she goes to a restaurant, she frequently gets lost on her way back to her table from the restroom. Once there, someone else has to cut her meat or pancakes for her; because of her vision, she can't be trusted with a knife.

In criminal court, Adkinson and Woodworth were found guilty of negligence and got probated sentences. Pritchett wasn't found guilty of anything, and now the appeals court says he's liable for nothing. Adkinson, a man in his eighties, is paying Michelle $200 a month. It doesn't require a high level of math skills to figure how that's not working out.

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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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