Davis v. Stallones

Decision Date03 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. 01-87-00095-CV,01-87-00095-CV
Citation750 S.W.2d 235
PartiesKimberly DAVIS, Administratrix of the Estate of Edwin Burts, Appellant, v. Julia STALLONES, et al., Appellees. (1st. Dist.)
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Davis Burrow, Robert E. Ray, Joe Crabb, Houston, for appellant.

Grant Kaiser, Rockne W. Onstad, Houston, for appellees.

Before WARREN, DUNN and COHEN, JJ.

COHEN, Justice.

This is an appeal from a wrongful death action resulting from a helicopter crash that killed three men. Judgment was rendered for the plaintiffs against the administratrix of Edwin Burt's estate in an amount over $1.8 million, based on the jury's verdict.

On December 23, 1982, Edwin Burts, William G. Stallones, and Barry Burts were returning to Houston from Brackettville, Texas, in a Bell 206 B jet ranger helicopter. Edwin Burts was the licensed helicopter pilot, but did not have an instrument rating. William G. Stallones and Barry Burts, Edwin's nephew, were the passengers. They crashed in bad weather 15 miles west of San Antonio, killing all three men.

Appellant first contends that the trial court erred in twice refusing to declare a mistrial after the appellees' expert witness revealed the National Transportation Safety Board's ("NTSB") conclusions regarding the probable cause of the crash to the jury.

During the trial, the plaintiffs offered expert testimony from Richard Lenoir that the accident was caused by the negligence of Edwin Burts. Defense counsel cross-examined Mr. Lenoir about a control system malfunction that could have caused the accident. Lenoir was asked if it would be necessary to inspect the control system connections, in order to rule out the possibility of a control malfunction. He answered:

MR. LENOIR: Well, that would assist in, you know, determining and I assume that the NTSB did, you know, did that. And I am sure that they did that.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Well, you don't know that; do you?

MR. LENOIR: I know that that is an absence in their report, that they did not indicate that that was probably the problem or that was the probable cause. You know, if--

Appellant did not object, and a motion for mistrial was not made until Lenoir finished testifying. At the close of evidence, appellant again requested a mistrial. Appellant now argues that Lenoir's reference to the NTSB's findings violated 49 U.S.C. § 1441(e), which makes NTSB findings inadmissible in air crash litigation.

Prior to trial, a motion in limine was granted excluding the entire NTSB report. Appellees elicited testimony from Lenoir during trial as to why he thought it was unnecessary to look at the wreckage to analyze the accident. Lenoir answered that he had heard appellant's expert witness testify that he had found no mechanical malfunction of the aircraft and that this confirmed the NTSB findings. He further explained that the NTSB investigated the crash site before anything was moved and developed records that he reviewed. Appellant did not object to these references to the NTSB report. On cross-examination by appellant, Lenoir stated that he had relied on the NTSB report in forming his opinion that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the helicopter. Again, appellant did not object.

Later, during re-cross examination, appellant referred Lenoir to a page of the NTSB report, and asked Lenoir whether he had placed emphasis on the fact that the author of the NTSB report had checked the block marked "no" concerning a control system malfunction. Lenoir answered affirmatively, stating that the NTSB found no malfunction.

Finally, appellees' counsel argued to the jury that appellant's expert witness, Dr. Waldron, had found no defect or malfunction that caused the crash, and that the NTSB report had found none. He explained to the jury the part of the NTSB report that was in evidence. Again, appellant did not object.

The purpose of a motion in limine is to prevent prejudicial questions and statements before the jury. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. McCardell, 369 S.W.2d 331, 335 (Tex.1963). However, a motion in limine is not the predicate for complaint on appeal; the predicate is a proper, timely objection made when the evidence is offered. Bridges v. City of Richardson, 163 Tex. 292, 293, 354 S.W.2d 366, 367-68 (1962). A timely objection is necessary when an improper question has been asked in violation of a motion in limine. Pool v. Ford Motor Co., 715 S.W.2d 629, 637 (Tex.1986).

Moreover, appellant elicited some of the testimony now complained of, as well as other, similar testimony mentioning the NTSB report. Thus, she cannot complain of the error.

Point of error one is overruled.

Appellant next contends that the trial court erred by allowing the appellees to mention insurance throughout the trial.

Appellant's expert, Dr. Waldron, repeatedly referred on direct examination to parts of the wreckage that were "not available for inspection" and "missing." These parts, he stated, might have proved that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure, rather than pilot error, as appellees claimed. Appellees sought to establish in cross-examination that the wreckage had been in the continuous control of Associated Aviation Underwriters ("AAU"), which had insured the deceased pilot and had hired Waldron to investigate and testify. The court overruled a relevance objection, and appellant did not seek a limiting instruction under Texas Rule of Evidence 105. The trial judge reasoned that because appellant had suggested to the jury that appellees were responsible for the "mystery" of the...

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4 cases
  • General Motors Corp. v. Iracheta
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • May 31, 2002
    ...violated the motion in limine. See Weidner v. Sanchez, 14 S.W.3d 353, 364-64 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.); Davis v. Stallones, 750 S.W.2d 235, 237 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no writ) (unless proper, timely objection is made when an improper question has been asked ......
  • In re Cont'l Airlines Flight 1404
    • United States
    • Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation
    • May 7, 2009
    ...reports are not admissible at trial,6 and NTSB factual reports may be wholly or partially admissible. See49 C.F.R. § 835.2; Davis v. Stallones, 750 S.W.2d 235, 236 (Tex.App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no writ) (excluding entire report, including portions containing fact findings); Protectus ......
  • Methodist Hospitals of Dallas v. Corporate Communicators, Inc.
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • March 6, 1991
    ...receive an adverse ruling on its admission. On appeal, a party may not predicate his complaint on a motion in limine. See Davis v. Stallones, 750 S.W.2d 235, 237 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no writ). Because Methodist may not appeal the granting of a motion in limine and failed to ......
  • Seneca Resources Corp. v. Marsh & McLennan, Inc.
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • October 19, 1995
    ...timely objection is made when an improper question has been asked in violation of a motion in limine, error is waived. Davis v. Stallones, 750 S.W.2d 235, 237 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no Seneca also complains that the trial court erroneously admitted testimony about the cost of ......
1 books & journal articles
  • CHAPTER 10.I. Motion Authorities
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Texas Motions in Limine Title Chapter 10 Personal Injury Motions
    • Invalid date
    ...or control, trial court properly redacted information regarding policy limits before admitting certificate). Davis v. Stallones, 750 S.W.2d 235, 238 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no writ) (evidence of insurance coverage proper to demonstrate control). Jacobini v. Hall, 719 S.W.2d 396......

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