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Wiltz v. Welch

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 3, 2015

JOSEPH J. WILTZ, JR.,
v.
MAYA WELCH, ET AL

RULING ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION TO AMEND JUDGMENT

STEPHEN C. RIEDLINGER, Magistrate Judge.

Before the court is the Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial or in the Alternative, Motion to Amend Judgment. Record document number 66. The motion is opposed.[1]

This diversity case was tried before a jury on October 6 and 7, 2014. Plaintiff filed suit against the defendants to recover under Louisiana law for personal injuries and damages sustained as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on February 8, 2013. Plaintiff presented evidence and argued to the jury that he should be awarded damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of income, and past and future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Defendants admitted that Maya Welch, the driver of the vehicle that struck the truck the plaintiff was driving, was at fault. Defendants presented evidence at trial and argued that the injuries for which the plaintiff was seeking damages either existed prior to the accident or were not caused by or related to the accident. Therefore, the defendants maintained that the jury should not award the plaintiff any of the damages he was seeking.

After deliberating for approximately one hour and forty minutes, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, answering in the affirmative that Welch's negligence was a legal cause of injury to the plaintiff. However, the jury awarded the plaintiff only the total amount of his past medical expenses, $21, 607.80. The jury did not award the plaintiff any amount for future medical expenses, loss of income, or pain and suffering/loss of enjoyment of life.[2]

After judgment was entered on October 9, 2014 in accordance with the jury's verdict, the plaintiff timely filed the present motion under Rule 59, Fed.R.Civ.P., asking the court to grant an additur, or in the alternative to grant a new trial on the issue of damages.[3] Defendants urged the court to uphold the jury's verdict and deny the plaintiff's motion for a new trial or additur.

Based on the applicable law and the analysis that follows, the plaintiff's motion is denied.

Applicable Law

A Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend a judgment is silent as to the grounds that justify altering or amending a judgment, but Rule 60(b) lists six grounds for relief from a judgment. The question of whether Rule 59 or Rule 60 applies to a motion turns on the time when the motion is served. If the motion is filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment, it is correctly considered under Rule 59(e). Nevertheless, Rules 59(e) and 60(b) permit the same relief - a change in the judgment. A Rule 59(e) motion calls into question the correctness of a judgment. The usual grounds for relief under Rule 59(e) are correction of manifest errors of law or fact on which the judgment is based, consideration of newly discovered evidence, prevention of manifest injustice, or an intervening change in controlling law. The motion must request a substantive alteration of the judgment, not merely the correction of a clerical error. Rule 59(e) is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment. Reconsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly. See, In re Transtexas Gas Corp., 303 F.3d 571, 581 (5th Cir. 2002); Sentry Select Ins. Co. v. Home State County Mut.Ins.Co., 582 Fed.Appx. 282 (5th Cir. 2014); Williams v. Thaler, 602 F.3d 291, 303-304 (5th Cir. 2010); 11 Wright, Miller & Kane, ยง 2810.1 (3d ed.).

Under Rule 59(a)(1)(A) the court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has been granted in an action at law in federal court. In a diversity action in which Louisiana law applies, a motion for new trial under Rule 59(a) based on an excessive or inadequate jury award is governed by Louisiana state law. Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, 518 U.S. 415, 419, 116 S.Ct. 2211 (1996); Fair v. Allen, 669 F.3d 601, 604 (Cir. 2012); Matheny v. Chavez, 2014 WL 6601029 (5th Cir., Nov. 21, 2014).

Under the Louisiana Civil Code, a party is entitled to a new trial when the verdict or judgment appears clearly contrary to the law and the evidence. In construing such a motion Louisiana gives the jury high deference. This is because a motion for new trial solely on the basis of being contrary to the evidence is directed squarely at the accuracy of the jury's factual determinations and must be viewed in that light. The jury's verdict should not be set aside if it is supportable by any fair interpretation of the evidence.

Matheny, supra. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Under Louisiana law there is no rule that it is legal error to award special damages without general damages. While a jury verdict awarding medical expenses but simultaneously denying damages for pain and suffering will often be inconsistent when the record is examined, under certain circumstances the evidence may support both an award of medical expenses and a concurrent denial of general damages. After consideration of all the evidence, a jury can reasonably reach the conclusion that a plaintiff has proven he is entitled to recover certain medical costs, yet failed to prove that he endured compensable pain and suffering as a result of the defendant's fault. Id .; Wainwright v. Fontenot, 774 So.2d 70, 75 (La. 2000); Green v. K-Mart Corp., 874 So.2d 838, 843 (La. 2004). The ultimate question is whether the factfinder made inconsistent awards and thus abused its discretion. Id.

Analysis

Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend ...


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