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SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS VERDICT IN DEATH CASE

The Texas Supreme Court recently overturned another jury verdict. In the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Merrell, et al., ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2010), the court threw out the testimony of the expert witness; without that testimony, the plaintiff’s did not have sufficient evidence for their case.

Two people died in a fire in their rented home. The owner of the residence disposed of the household items after the fire marshal’s investigation, which included a fire-damaged floor lamp. The father of one of the victims testified that he had bought the halogen lamp at Wal-Mart. At trial, the fire origin expert witness testified that the halogen bulb exploded, causing “burning glass shards” to fall on a recliner, which smoldered before burning. The expert witness ruled out some other potential causes of the fire because they were not in the “area of origin.”

The expert witness had been allowed by the trial judge to testify to the jury, and the jury that had heard his testimony found him credible. But, on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that he had not ruled out all other possible sources of the fire, and threw out his testimony entirely, stating that it was “legally insufficient.” Thus, without their expert’s testimony, the family did not have enough evidence to prevail. So, the Supreme Court reversed the jury’s verdict and rendered a judgment for Wal-Mart.

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