Law School Case Brief
Williams v. Hills Fitness Ctr., Inc. - 705 S.W.2d 189 (Tex. App. 1985)
The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.41 et seq. (Supp. 1985), must be liberally construed to promote its underlying purposes. Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.44.
Plaintiffs Mary Pearl Williams and her husband, Jerre S. Williams, filed a lawsuit in Texas state court against defendant Hills Fitness Center, Inc. ("Center"), alleging that Mrs. Williams was physically injured while using the Center's exercise equipment while visiting the Center to inspect its facilities in anticipation of joining. The action for damages was grounded upon common law negligence and violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.41, et seq. (Vernon Supp. 1985). At the close of the evidence, and before submission of the case to the jury, the trial court granted, over objection, the Center's motion for partial instructed verdict thereby denying the Williams' claim for relief grounded in the Act. By granting the motion the trial court determined, as a matter of law, one or more of the following circumstances: that (1) Mrs. Williams was not a consumer, (2) the alleged violations were not a producing cause of damage to her, or (3) the Williams failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Act. Special issues to determine negligence and associated facts were submitted to the jury. No special issues were submitted upon alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Judgment was entered and damages awarded upon the jury's answers to the special issues submitted. The Williams appealed.
Did the district court err in granting a partial instructed verdict in favor of the Center on the Williams' claims under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act?
The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial on the pleadings of the parties. The court held that the instructed verdict should not have been granted. The court found that Mrs. Williams was a consumer for purposes of bringing suit under the Act because she sought goods or services from the Center and the goods and services were the basis of the complaint. The court stated that while the Willimas' offer of settlement notice did not comply with the requirements of § 17.50A(a) of the Act, such compliance was not required. The Center had first-hand knowledge of Mrs. Williams' injury. The notice stated that the Williams' damages were not less than $ 500,000. Because no attorney's fees or expenses had matured when the notice was sent, notice was not required.
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