St. Mary's Law Journal


John J. Sampson


Although the bench and bar have been recalcitrant in recognition, the Texas Supreme Court has declared the special interest experiment a failure. For nearly eighty years Texas has engaged in an experiment requiring juries answer specific, factually detailed inquiries in various circumstances. The theoretical justifications of special issue inquiries were to ease appeals processes and add clarity to jury decisions. Although the goals were meritorious, the actual result was jury confusion, inefficiency, complexity, and too many retrials. The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in TDHS v. EB signals the end of special issues and mandates the use of broad form submissions. A hypothetical best explains the requirements of special issue requirements. In a case involving a car crash, special issues require the submission of each element that may have proximately caused negligence and the ten-member jury must all unanimously agree that at least one specific act was the proximate cause of the occurrence to allow the plaintiff recovery. For instance, if plaintiff claims negligent because defendant was speeding, failure to apply the brakes, and failure to maintain a proper lookout, all jurors must agree at least one element was a proximate cause and that cause constitutes negligence. Broad form submissions simplify the jury process by focusing only on the overarching question posed instead of having to answer the narrower issues. Referring to the hypothetical above: “was the driver negligent”? Ultimately broad form submissions continue to require the agreement of ten jurors to rule on questions posed. However, broad form submissions represent a philosophy that a holistic judgement, accepting jurors arrive to a common conclusion on likely differing basis is more consistent with the right of trial by jury than special issues.


St. Mary's University School of Law