Dallas Court of Appeals upholds jury verdict holding circumstantial evidence can establish actual knowledge of a dangerous condition

Texas Department of Transportation v. Brian Milton 05-16-00955-CV (Tex. App—- Dallas, February 14, 2018)

This is a premise defect case against the Texas Department of Transportation (“TxDOT”)  where the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict against TxDOT.

Milton, a motorcyclist, was injured in a single-vehicle accident on FM Road 148. Milton asserts his tire became tied up in a groove in the roadway, causing him to end up in a ditch. [The opinion has a photo.]  He asserts TxDOT knew about the groove and failed to warn or fix it. A TxDoT maintenance supervisor had ordered “rough road ahead” signs put out at that location due to previous problems with soil expansion and contraction. It also contracted with a road crew for placing the signs as well as repair potholes. The jury was provided instructions on premise liability, including actual knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition. The jury returned a verdict for Milton and TxDOT appealed.

To prove actual knowledge, a licensee must show that the owner actually knew of the dangerous condition at the time of the accident, not merely of the possibility that a dangerous condition could develop over time.  TxDOT contends the evidence is legally insufficient. Courts must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to support the judgment. Actual knowledge can be found if supported by circumstantial evidence. Given the photos, testimony and record, the court held a reasonable jury could conclude TxDOT had actual knowledge, irrespective of a lack of direct evidence. And while there was conflicting evidence the signage was or was not sufficient to warn, a jury could also reasonably believe one expert over another. The jury verdict is therefore affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Lang, Brown and Whitehill. Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the court. The attorney listed for Texas Department of Transportation is John Seth Johnson. The attorney listed for Milton is Cynthia C. Hollingsworth and Charles L. Hoedebeck.

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