United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the Court is the Motion for New Trial (Doc.
91) filed by Warren Wright, Jr.
("Plaintiff'). In his motion, Plaintiff requests a
new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
("Rule") 59(a), arguing that the jury's verdict
is against the clear weight of the evidence, and suggesting
that the jury may have improperly considered the possibility
that Plaintiff received benefits for his accident-related
injury in reaching its verdict. Velocity Express, LLC
("Defendant") filed a memorandum in opposition.
(Doc. 99). Oral argument is not necessary. For reasons
assigned below, Plaintiffs motion is DENIED.
an independent contractor, filed the instant personal injury
action in the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Parish of
West Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, on March 12, 2014,
alleging that Defendant was liable unto him for an injury he
sustained while removing cargo loaded onto his truck by
Defendant's employees. (See Doc. 1). Defendant
removed the action to this Court on December 4, 2014, and the
matter was tried before a seven-member jury from January 23 -
25, 2017. On the final day of trial, the jury returned a
verdict in favor of Defendant, finding that Defendant was not
guilty of negligence that was a legal cause of Plaintiffs
accident and injury. (Doc. 85). The Court entered a final
judgment in favor of Defendant on January 31, 2017. (Doc.
88). Plaintiff timely filed the instant motion on February
22, 2017. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(b) ("A motion
for a new trial must be filed no later than 28 days after the
entry of judgment.").
59(a) provides that a new trial may be granted "on all
or some of the issues ... after a jury trial, for any reason
for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an
action in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1).
Although Rule 59(a) does not list specific grounds for a new
trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has
held that a new trial may be granted if "the verdict is
against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are
excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error was
committed in its course." Smith v. Transworld
Drilling Co., 773 F.2d 610, 613 (5th Cir. 1985)
(citations omitted). However, it is within the "sound
discretion of the trial court" to determine whether to
grant or deny a motion for new trial. Pryor v. Trane
Co., 138 F.3d 1024, 2016 (5th Cir. 1998).
contends that the jury's finding that Defendant was not a
legal cause of Plaintiffs accident and injury was against the
clear weight of the evidence. As Defendant correctly notes,
the law of the Fifth Circuit requires that a federal court
sitting in diversity apply state law in a Rule 59 challenge
to the adequacy of the evidence in diversity cases. See
Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477, 497-98 (5th Cir.
2008). Accordingly, under Louisiana law, "[a] new trial
shall be granted . . . when the verdict or judgment appears
clearly contrary to the law and the evidence." La. Code
Civ. P. art. 1972(1). "The trial court's discretion
in ruling on a motion for new trial is great, "
Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2000-0445 (La.
11/28/00), 774 So.2d 84, 93, and "the court can evaluate
the evidence, draw it's [sic] own inferences and
conclusions, and determine whether the jury 'erred in
giving too much credence to an unreliable witness."'
Fair v. Allen, 669 F.3d 601, 605 (5th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Joseph v. Broussard Rice Mill, Inc.,
2000-0628 (La.10/30/00), 772 So.2d 94, 104)). However, the
Louisiana Supreme Court has cautioned that, notwithstanding
the judicial discretion involved in determining a motion for
a new trial, "the jury's verdict should not be set
aside if it is supportable by any fair interpretation of the
evidence." Davis, 774 So.2d at 93 (quoting
Gibson v. Bossier City Gen. Hosp., 594 So.2d 1332
(La.App. 2 Cir. 1991)).
the jury found that Defendant was not the legal cause of
Plaintiffs injuries. (See Doc. 85 at p. 1). After considering
the evidence adduced at trial, and with the extremely
deferential standard of review in mind, the Court finds that
the jury's verdict is supportable by a fair
interpretation of the evidence and should therefore not be
set aside. At trial, the parties offered two competing
theories in support of their respective contentions that the
other was legally responsible for Plaintiffs injuries.
Specifically, Plaintiff cited the method Defendant used to
load Plaintiffs truck-"downstacking" as opposed to
wrapping pallets of cargo with plastic-as the reason
Plaintiff sustained injury to his shoulder, and supported
this theory with witness testimony and a photo of allegedly
negligently stacked cargo that resembled Plaintiffs truck on
the date of the accident. Although testimony at trial
established that Defendant's employees chose one method
of loading over the other, the propriety of the loading
method was not at issue in this case. Rather, Plaintiff was
charged with demonstrating that on the date in question, he
sustained injuries because of negligence on the part of
Defendant's employees. To refute this contention,
Defendant challenged the credibility of Plaintiffs witnesses,
and the jury was ultimately required to make several
credibility determinations when assessing the evidence before
them. Further, with respect to the photos and videos of
Plaintiffs truck, although Plaintiff and other witnesses
insist that the depictions of Plaintiffs truck resemble the
manner in which Plaintiffs truck was loaded on the date of
the accident, the Court cannot ignore the fact that these
photos and were taken before the date of the
accident, nor can the Court reasonably assume that the jury
failed to recognize this fact as well. By the end of the
trial, the jury made its credibility assessments, weighed the
evidence, and drew inferences from this evidence in a manner
favorable to Defendant. Considering the entire record, there
is no basis to conclude that the verdict was against the
great weight of the evidence.
Plaintiffs implication that the admission of limited
testimony regarding the Agreement between Plaintiff and
Defendant may have resulted in a negative verdict for
Plaintiff is unavailing. First, whether the jury could hear
evidence of benefits paid through any insurance policy
obtained in compliance with the occupational accident
provision of the Agreement was the subject of a pretrial
motion in limine filed by Plaintiff. (See
Doc. 81). The Court ultimately ruled in Plaintiffs favor and
held that although the jury could not hear evidence of any
benefits paid pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, the
Court would allow testimony and evidence regarding the
existence of the Agreement. (See Doc. 83).
Further, as both parties note, the Court thereafter provided
a limiting instruction to the jury before they commenced
deliberation, instructing them to avoid any inclination to
speculate about whether Plaintiff received any payments from
insurance he may have had pursuant to the
Agreement. Finally, it is unreasonable to conclude
that the jury's finding of liability in favor of
Defendant was influenced by the amount of damages
Plaintiff would have been entitled to in the event liability
was ultimately imputed to Defendant. Accordingly and for
these reasons, the Court is not inclined to override the
foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the
Motion for New Trial (Doc. 91) filed by
Warren Wright, Jr. is DENIED.