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Dauphin v. American Fire & Casualty Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 4, 2015




Before the Court is Plaintiff Miguel Dauphin's ("Dauphin") "Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or Motion for a New Trial."[1] Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the Court will deny the motion.

I. Background

On August 1, 2012, Dauphin was driving on the Westbank Expressway in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, when his 2008 Mercedes Benz E350 was rear-ended by a 2006 Ford F-250 driven by David W. Gaither ("Gaither").[2] At the time of the collision, Gaither was employed by Defendant Hollis Electric Company, Inc. ("Hollis Electric"), who also owned the Ford F-250.[3] Defendant American Fire & Casualty Company ("American Fire") served as Hollis Electric's vehicle liability insurer.[4] On June 19, 2013, Dauphin filed the complaint in this matter against Gaither, Hollis Electric, and American Fire (collectively, "Defendants").[5] He asserted a claim for negligence and sought damages including past and future physical pain and suffering, past and future mental anguish, medical expenses, disability, wage loss and loss of earning capacity, and property damage.[6]

On June 11, 2014, the Court granted Dauphin's unopposed motion for summary judgment, holding that Gaither is 100 percent liable and solely at fault for any damages arising out of the collision, and that Dauphin is free from any fault or liability in the accident.[7] On June 30, 2014, a jury trial commenced to determine the sole issues of (1) whether Dauphin sustained any injuries in the collision, and (2) the nature, severity, extent, and duration of any injuries and damages sustained in the accident.[8] On July 1, 2014, after a two day trial, the seven-member jury returned a unanimous verdict that Dauphin did not sustain injuries caused by the August 1, 2012 collision.[9] Accordingly, the jury did not reach the issue of compensatory damages.[10]

Dauphin filed the pending motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial on July 29, 2014.[11] Defendants filed a memorandum in opposition on August 8, 2014, [12] and Dauphin filed a memorandum in further support of his motion on August 19, 2014.[13]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. Dauphin's Arguments in Support

Dauphin contends that there are five separate grounds supporting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. First, he argues that the jury was unreasonable in finding that he was not injured in the collision because "the overwhelming, undisputed evidence clearly shows some injury leaving the issue of the extent of the neck injuries to be determined by the jury."[14] In support of this argument, he contends that Defendants' medical expert, Dr. Robert Applebaum, confirmed "[t]he fact of injury"[15] and "conceded that Miguel Dauphin sustained a sprain or strain injury to his neck."[16]

Next, Dauphin contends that the jury failed to follow the Housley presumption on injury causation, which, according to Dauphin:

establishes a causal connection between an injury the plaintiff suffered in an accident, if before the accident, the injured person was in good health, but commencing with the accident the symptoms of the disabling condition appear and continuously manifest themselves afterwards, providing that the medical evidence shows there to be a reasonable possibility of causal connection between the accident and the disabling condition.[17]

Dauphin argues that the Housley presumption applies in this case because "there was strong and overwhelming evidence that the plaintiff sustained some injury to his neck in the August 1, 2012 motor vehicle collision, and there was no evidence of any prior injury to Miguel Dauphin's neck."[18]

Additionally, Dauphin argues that "the jury failed to follow the presumption that the plaintiff's treating physicians carry more weight than the defendants [sic] medical expert hired solely for the purposes of litigation."[19] According to Dauphin, the evidence introduced at trial "revealed three treating physicians opined [sic] that there was a neck injury with a C3-4 herniation that was effacing the spinal cord."[20]

Next, Dauphin contends that "the evidence clearly showed that the jury erred in returning a verdict that was solely based on the force of impact, which cannot be a factor alone in determining causation for injuries."[21] Specifically, he argues that the jury erroneously relied only on photographs and documents demonstrating damage to his vehicle in their determination that he was not injured in the collision.[22] According to Dauphin, degree of impact evidence is irrelevant because "it is not disputed that an injury was sustained by Miguel Dauphin."[23] Therefore, he contends, "[t]he jury was clearly wrong and unreasonable" in its determination that he did not sustain an injury in the collision.[24]

Finally, Dauphin argues that "the jury failed to follow the law as instructed on aggravation of a pre-existing condition as it was undisputed that he sustained a sprain/strain type injury to his back during the August 1, 2012 motor vehicle collision that aggravated his pre-existing low back injury."[25]

B. Defendants' Arguments in Opposition

Defendants' main argument in opposition to the pending motion is that the jury considered all of the evidence, assessed the credibility of Dauphin and the expert witnesses, and correctly determined that Dauphin was not injured in the accident.[26] Specifically,

[t]he jury found that the evidence in the record and the plaintiff's unimpressive appearance as a witness cast serious suspicions and doubts on the reliability and credibility of both the plaintiff's and his new doctor's testimony and evidence. As a result, the Jury rejected and negated any evidence suggesting he may have been injured in this accident.[27]

Defendants point to the following questions, which were submitted to the Court by the jury during its deliberations:

(1) Can you clarify when Mr. Dauphin initially experienced the neck burning? At the scene when the police were filling out the report, or after he got out of the shower at home?
(2) When he realized his neck was "burning, " why did he not go to the emergency room as soon as he experienced it considering his previous medical history?[28]

These questions, according to Defendants, indicate that "[t]he Jury simply did not believe the plaintiff or his doctors that he was injured."[29] Defendants additionally argue that, as stated in the jury instructions, a plaintiff is not entitled to a favorable judgment just because he filed a lawsuit, and moreover the jury is allowed to assess the credibility of all witnesses, including experts.[30]

With regard to Dauphin's argument that the jury returned a verdict based solely on force of impact evidence, Defendants contend that "[t]he Jury took all of the evidence into ...

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