PALESTINE (CBSDFW.COM) – Michael and Michelle Gaines are as close as a father and daughter can get. They should be after what they’ve been through. “She was outgoing and could handle any type of situation,” recalled Michael. “She had a good outlook on life.”
That all came crashing to an end on June 11, 2006 when an 18-wheeler hauling a drilling rig ran a red light and slammed into Michelle’s car. “My daughter as I knew her died that day. What God gave me back, I love,” said Michael.
The accident left the 19-year-old former homecoming queen and star athlete from Palestine High School with severe and permanent brain damage. The now 26-year-old is unable to take care of herself and has virtually no memory.
The driver of the truck, along with the truck’s owner, Benny Joe Adkinson and another businessman, Joseph Pritchett, were all held liable by a jury in 2010. The jury awarded Michelle $8,000,000 after they heard testimony that the truck had faulty brakes and that the driver admitted smoking crack the night before.
But attorney, Scott Clearman says the key was connecting Pritchett to the accident, since the other two men involved had no money. “The evidence was crystal clear that Mr. Pritchett was involved in this from the very beginning,” explained Clearman.
Clearman says he proved in court that Pritchett asked for the drilling rig to be delivered to his business and that he and Adkinson were engaged in a joint enterprise.
Jurors also considered evidence that Pritchett allegedly covered up his involvement in the accident by destroying evidence and bribing Adkinson with hush money.
Despite the Gaines’ victory in civil court, the family suffered a huge setback in July of 2011. “How an appeals court could overturn that, I don’t understand it,” recalled Michael.
The 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler overturned the jury’s verdict and found that Pritchett was not responsible for the truck, the drilling rig and how it was transported. Click here to read the appeal ruling.
Steve Norris was the jury foreman in the original civil trial and called the ruling a slap in the face. “Why do you have jury duty if somebody else is going to overrule what you took four days, very seriously to do,” asked Norris.
Pritchett and his attorney, Robert Roby, declined an on-camera interview. Instead, they issued CBS 11 News the following statement: “This was a tragic accident, and the people responsible for it are liable for Ms. Gaines’ injuries. The Tyler Court of Appeals correctly ruled that Mr. Pritchett had no involvement in this accident and that the case against him should never have been submitted to the jury because there was no evidence to support it. Mr. Pritchett is being wrongly accused because the people responsible had no insurance or resources to satisfy their responsibility to Ms. Gaines.
Following the ruling by the appeals court, the family’s legal battles took a turn for the worse when the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear their case. “You’re up here and then you’re down here,” Michael said as he described his emotions.
The Gaines family has one last hope. They filed one last petition to reconsider the case and the Texas Supreme Court has asked Pritchett and his attorneys to respond. Click here to read the petition.
If the petition is ultimately denied, however, Michael and Michelle Gaines will need their strong bond more than ever to overcome yet another setback.