Texas Appeals Court Wipes Out $31.6M Nuclear Verdict As 'Excessive'

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 12th District in Tyler, Texas, has granted FTS International Services and one of its former drivers a new trial over what it deemed an "excessive" $31.6 million verdict awarded to a motorist allegedly injured during an accident.

The panel reversed a judgment in favor of motorist Joshua Patterson that had included $26.3 million in compensatory damages and $5.3 million in punitive damages.

Patterson alleged that he was injured when former FTS International Services driver Bill Acker negligently rear-ended him during an accident in September 2013.

According to the appeals court's ruling on Wednesday, the $31.6 million award was "excessive." The panel reversed "the trial court's judgment and [remanded the case] for a new trial on both liability and damages."

In July 2018, a jury in Upshur County, Texas, originally awarded Patterson a $101 million verdict against FTS — one of the largest civil penalties ever handed down in an accident involving a trucking company.

The trial court later reduced the total award to $31.6 million to stay within Texas' statutory punitive damage cap.

FTS International is an oil services company based in Fort Worth, Texas. It has a fleet of trucks that carry sand and other material needed for fracking. The FTS truck involved in the accident with Patterson was carrying frac sand.

On Sept. 15, 2013, the truck driven by Acker was involved in an accident with a full-size pickup driven by Patterson in Ore City, Texas.

According to court filings, Acker's semi-truck drifted into Patterson's lane, colliding with Patterson's vehicle. The collision was recorded on a dashcam inside Acker's truck, which showed that he took his hands off the wheel, resulting in the truck drifting into Patterson's lane, impacting the right rear bumper and fender of Patterson's vehicle.

Both drivers pulled over and Acker apologized for causing the collision, according to court filings.

Ore City Police Department Officer Tashia Wilson responded to the call for assistance, and Patterson indicated he was unhurt. Wilson did not observe any signs of impairment on Acker's part, and the officer cited Acker for failure to control his speed, to which he later pleaded guilty.

Determining that neither Acker nor Patterson was injured, Wilson released the parties.

A drug test Acker took hours after the incident — performed by FTS International — turned up positive for marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine, according to filings. During the trial, Acker admitted he was on probation with FTS International for his driving performance and had three moving violations within a two-and-a-half-year period.

After the accident, Patterson claimed he sustained severe neck and back injuries in the accident, eventually necessitating surgery. Following the surgery, according to his lawyers, Patterson, who had been a crane operator, was no longer able to work.

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