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Texas Supreme Court Alters Long-Standing Rule

This month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of defendants by altering a long-standing court rule. The case was In re Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, and it was decided on July 3, 2009.

In this suit, a man entered a hospital with kidney stones and died two days later. After a four-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for the hospital and nurses. However, the judge who presided over the trial granted a new trial "in the interest of justice and fairness," as the rules of court have permitted for many decades. The defense filed a certain kind of appeal known as a "mandamus" to force the judge to enter judgment for the defense or to state his reasons for a new trial. No Texas law required that. Later, a new judge was elected to that trial court, and as a result the mandamus was abated so that the new trial judge could consider the order granting a new trial. He also agreed with it.

Overturning years of court decisions, including some from the Supreme Court itself, the Court granted the mandamus and sent the case back to the trial court, directing the new judge to state the reasons for a new trial. The Supreme Court based its reasoning in part upon the importance of the right to a trial by jury, even though it has ruled repeatedly in the last several years in favor of arbitration over the right to a trial by jury.

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