$32 million verdict against Domino’s overturned on appeal

$32 million verdict against Domino’s overturned on appeal

March 19, justices with the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals overturned a $32 million verdict that found Domino’s Pizza 60 percent at fault in a fatal 2012 accident involving a delivery driver.

Aug. 11, 2012, Domino’s delivery driver Joshua Balka set out to deliver a pizza on what he described as an average workday. On the fateful evening, rain beat down on the pavement as he traveled southbound on Major Drive in Beaumont. It was about 7 p.m., and the intermittent precipitation pooled on the road’s surface. Balka was driving approximately 55 mph down Major in his 2002 Ford Explorer on a bald tire with “absolutely no tread,” according to the accident report. When he encountered the standing water on the road, he hydroplaned and lost control of his vehicle, his SUV swerving headlong into oncoming traffic. Balka’s Explorer collided with a 2011 Honda Accord carrying Dr. Ruth Christopher, 65, and her husband, Devavaram Christopher, 70.

Ruth Christopher, a doctor and Christian missionary, clung to life for hours but ultimately died as a result of the accident, having suffered multiple ruptured organs, which lawyers described in closing statements as being “turned to mush.” Devavaram Christopher survived but suffered a permanent traumatic brain injury, making him unable to care for himself and struggling with the most basic of tasks. Physical therapist Raghurami Reddy, Ruth Christopher’s brother, cared for Mr. Christopher for weeks on end, helping him to regain his memory using photographs during his stay at the hospital. He was initially unable to identify his own wife. YouTube videos documenting Mr. Christopher’s recovery show him even unable to remember the death of his own mother, who died many years prior to the accident. The educated businessman turned missionary who once traveled the world administering aid and ministering the Christian faith no longer possessed the reading and writing skills of an elementary school student and had to undergo toilet training at the age of 70.

A back and forth battle ensued in court over liability, the victims’ attorneys laying most of the blame on Domino’s Corporation and Domino’s blaming the franchisee, MAC Pizza. In the end, Balka, the driver, was found 10 percent responsible for the accident, MAC 30 percent responsible and Domino’s corporate 60 percent responsible.

Domino’s appealed the verdict in January, denying any liability for the accident and placing the blame on MAC Pizza. The Ninth Court agreed, overturning what was touted as one of the top 100 national jury verdicts in 2013.