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Ford v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 22, 2015

GARY FORD,
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., ET AL.,

RULING

RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Gary Ford's "Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, or in the Alternative, FRCP Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, or Further in the Alternative, FRCP Rule 59(a) Motion for a New Trial." (R. Doc. 82) ("Motion"). Defendants J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. and Tony Reid oppose the Motion. (R. Doc. 85). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gary Ford ("Plaintiff" or "Ford") worked as a Part's Manager at Simpson's Car Care Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Defendant Tony Reid ("Reid") was employed as a truck driver and delivery person for Defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. ("J.B. Hunt") (collectively, "Defendants"). In his Petition, Ford alleges that he suffered severe personal injuries on June 8, 2011 based on the following account of Reid's manner of unloading a tire that struck Ford in the head:

At the time of the incident that is the subject of this suit, defendant Tony Reid was unloading tires from a trailer and [Ford] was taking inventory of the tires while they were being unloaded, when suddenly and without warning, defendant Tony Reid negligently pushed a large tire from the closed end of a large trailer to the open end of the large trailer, out of the back of the trailer, in a quick and uncontrolled manner, causing the tire to strike the top of [Ford's] head, while [Ford] was located at the back of the trailer, with his head down, taking inventory of the tires being unloaded from the trailer, thereby causing the incident that is the subject of this suit.

(R. Doc. 1-4 at 3-4). In addition to Reid's alleged negligence in unloading the tires, Ford seeks to hold J.B. Hunt vicariously liable for Reid's negligence or directly liable for negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision of Reid. (R. Doc. 1-4 at 4).

Prior to trial, the parties stipulated to the following facts relevant to this Motion:

1. On June 8, 2011, Gary Ford was employed by and was in the course and scope of his employment with Simpson's Car Care Center.
2. On June 8, 2011, Tony Reid was employed by and was in the course and scope of his employment with J. B. Hunt Transport, Inc.
3. On June 8, 2011, between 3:00 and 3:30 PM, Tony Reid arrived at and began unloading tires at Simpson's Car Care Center.
4. Gary Ford was using the floor of the trailer on the driver's side corner as his desk to inventory the tires as they were rolled off the trailer.
5. At the time of the accident, the process of the unloading the tires was approximately one half complete.
6. Tony Reid did not intend to hit Gary Ford with a tire.

At trial, both Ford and Reid testified that Reid did not call out tire size numbers while unloading tires. Ford and Reid provided conflicting testimony, however, on whether Reid shouted out a warning before Ford was struck by the tire.

On July 18, 2014, after a four-day trial, the jury rendered a verdict in Defendants' favor finding that neither Reid nor J.B. Hunt was at fault for the June 8, 2011 accident. (R. Doc. 80). The first question on the verdict form asked the following question: "Was the June 8, 2011 accident caused by the negligence of Tony Reid?" The jury selected the answer "No." The second question on the verdict form asked the following question: "Was the June 8, 2011 accident caused by the negligence of J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.?" The jury again selected the answer "No." Because the jury answered the first two questions in the negative, the jury form directed the jury to have the foreperson sign and date the form and inform the Court that the jury had reached a verdict.

On July 23, 2014, the Court entered judgment for the Defendants and dismissed the matter. (R. Doc. 81).

On August 15, 2014, Ford filed the instant Motion arguing that based on the weight of the evidence, the jury could not reasonably conclude that neither Reid nor J.B. Hunt was at fault. Ford further requests, if the Court should determine that either Defendant was at fault despite the jury's verdict, to enter judgment in his favor on "causation, damages, and allocation of fault."

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict

Ford first moves for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") on the issue of liability. Ford purports to bring his motion pursuant to a Louisiana statute, La. C.C.P. art 1811, and not the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Ford asserts that Louisiana law governs his JNOV motion in light of the Supreme Court ruling Gasperini v. Center for Humanities , 518 U.S. 415 (1996).

In Gasperini , the defendant moved for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure where the jury awarded $450, 000 in damages to the plaintiff where the defendant lost 300 slide transparencies placed in its care. Id. at 419. After the verdict, the defendant claimed, in part, that the jury verdict was excessive because it awarded $1, 500 for each of the slide transparencies. The Supreme Court concluded that the New York statute[1] governing appellate review of excessive awards when the jury returns an itemized verdict constituted substantive law and must be applied in diversity actions where a party seeks a new trial based on an excessive jury award. Id . at 437-38.

In light of the Gasperini decision, the Fifth Circuit has held that "a district court must apply a new trial or remittitur standard according to the state's law controlling jury awards for excessiveness or inadequacy, and appellate control of the district court's ruling is limited to review for abuse of discretion.'" Foradori v. Harris , 523 F.3d 477, 497-98 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Gasperini , 518 U.S. at 419); see also Matheny v. Chavez , No. 14-30013, ___ F.Appx. ___, 2014 WL 6601029, at *3 (5th Cir. Nov. 21, 2014) ("In a diversity action in which Louisiana law applies, a motion for a new trial based on an excessive or inadequate jury award is governed by Louisiana state law.") (citing Fair v. Allen, 669 F.3d 601, 604 (5th Cir. 2012)). Where defendants have asserted that a jury award is excessive in a diversity action, the Fifth Circuit has reviewed the jury verdict in light of the relevant state's additur/remittitur statute. See, e.g., Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. , 710 F.3d 249, 254 (5th Cir. 2013) (Miss. Code Ann. ยง 11-1-55); Great W. Cas. ...


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