JOHN C. RENTROP AND HIS WIFE, DAWN RENTROP
ARCH INSURANCE COMPANY, PROGRESSIVE WASTE SOLUTIONS OF LA, INC. D/B/A SWDI, L.L.C. AND JERMAINE V. HARDING
Appeal from the Sixteenth Judicial District Court In and for
the Parish of St. Mary State of Louisiana No. 126246
Div."E" The Honorable Keith R.J. Comeaux, Judge
Scott Ramsey, Jr. Morgan City, LA Attorney for Plaintiffs/
Appellees John C. Rentrop and Dawn Rentrop
J. Rabalais Joshua B. Couvillion Covington, LA Attorneys for
Intervenor St. Mary Parish School Board
Evan Plauche Jam es H. Johnson Metairie, LA Attorneys for
Defendants/ Appellants Arch Insurance Company, Progressive
Waste Solutions of LA, Inc., d/b/a SWDI, L.L.C. and Jermaine
BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, PENZATO, JJ.
personal injury suit arises out of an automobile accident.
Defendants appeal a trial court judgment rendered in
accordance with a jury verdict, awarding the plaintiffs $1,
852, 500.00 in damages. The defendants also appeal a judgment
denying its Motion for a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict
or alternatively, a Motion for New Trial. For the following
reasons, we amend in part and affirm as amended.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
October 3, 2012, John C. Rentrop was driving his 1998 GMC
Bluebird school bus traveling West on La. Highway 182 near
Patterson, Louisiana. Mr. Rentrop had just begun his route
and the school bus was full with children. It was Mr.
Rentrop's policy for children not to sit in the last four
rows of the bus for safety reasons. As Mr. Rentrop's bus
came to a stop to let a child off, with the bus lights on and
stop signs out, he was struck from behind by a 2007 Mack MR
668S garbage truck driven by Jermaine V. Harding. Mr. Harding
failed to yield to the traffic ahead of him resulting in the
collision. No children were injured as a result of the
accident. Mr. Harding's garbage truck was owned and
operated by his employer, Progressive Waste Solutions of
Louisiana, Inc. d/b/a SWDI, L.L.C., and insured by Arch
Insurance Company. As a result of the accident, both the
school bus and the garbage truck were declared total losses.
the accident, Mr. Rentrop was taken by ambulance to Teche
Regional Medical Center. Mr. Rentrop complained of neck and
back pain, but was discharged the same day. On October 8,
2012, Mr. Rentrop saw Dr. Lianter Albert who prescribed him a
pain reliever and a muscle relaxer. Mr. Rentrop attended
thirty-one sessions of physical therapy and received steroid
injections, but his pain still did not recede. Although
physical therapy made Mr. Rentrop more active, his pain
worsened. Dr. Albert referred Mr. Rentrop to Dr. David Weir,
a neurologist, for nerve conduction studies. Dr. Weir
examined Mr. Rentrop and determined that he most likely
needed surgical intervention because physical therapy did not
have lasting benefits. Dr. Weir referred Mr. Rentrop to
orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. George Raymond Williams in May of
2013 to determine if surgery was necessary for his neck and
back. Dr. Williams examined Mr. Rentrop and determined that
he had cervical degenerative disc disease, spondylosis, and a
herniated disc. Therefore, Dr. Williams recommended
surgery due to Mr. Rentop's severe cervical pain. Mr.
Rentrop had a cervical discectomy and fusion in July 2013.
Following surgery, Mr. Rentrop's pain in his neck began
to improve and his daily headaches receded.
18, 2013, Mr. Rentrop and his wife, Dawn Rentrop, filed a
petition for damages against Arch Insurance, Progressive
Waste Solutions, and Mr. Harding for the injuries he
sustained in the accident. On August 30, 2013, St. Mary
Parish School Board, Mr. Rentrop's employer, intervened
in the matter, seeking reimbursement for all the workers'
compensation indemnity and medical benefits it paid to Mr.
Rentrop. On April 4, 2014, the parties jointly
stipulated that Mr. Harding's negligence was the sole
cause of the accident. After multiple continuances were
granted, this matter was set for trial on September 12, 2016.
trial, several witnesses testified as to Mr. Rentrop's
medical condition including Mr. Rentrop and his wife. Mr.
Rentrop testified that he had worked as a bus driver for over
thirty-one years making approximately $30, 000.00 a year, and
had not worked as a bus driver since the
accident. Mr. Rentrop explained to the jury the
history of his medical condition, stating that the cervical
discectomy and fusion resolved his arm pain and his neck pain
decreased; however, he still had pain in his lower back. Mr.
Rentrop testified that in December of 2014, Dr. Williams
performed a lumbar discectomy and fusion to treat his back
pain. Mr. Rentrop testified that the lumbar surgery helped
alleviate his lower back pain.
further corroborate Mr. Rentrop's testimony, the video
deposition of Dr. Williams was played for the jury at trial.
Dr. Williams stated in his deposition that when he saw Mr.
Rentrop for the first time, he was in severe pain, reporting
a "10 out of 10." Dr. Williams stated that as of
the date of trial, Mr. Rentrop had met his maximum medical
improvement for his neck; however, his back was "not
quite solid as of yet."
defendants presented medical expert, Dr. Walter Stanley
Foster, an orthopedic surgeon, to testify regarding his
independent medical examination of Mr. Rentrop. Dr. Foster
examined Mr. Rentrop after both of his surgeries and reported
that he was doing well and that there were no complications.
Dr. Foster testified that he believed both surgeries were
necessary and that as of the date of trial, Mr. Rentrop
should have been at maximum medical improvement for both his
neck and back. Dr. Foster further testified that he believed
that all of Mr. Rentrop's treatment was related to the
accident that occurred on October 3, 2012.
three-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding
damages as follows:
A. Physical pain and suffering, past, present and future
B. Mental pain and anguish, past, present and future $250,
C. Disability and disfigurement $125, 000.00
D. Inconvenience, loss of gratification of/or intellectual
$200, 000.00 and/or physical enjoyment of life and loss of
E. Medical expenses, past, present and future $400, 000.00
F. Loss of income, past, present and future $ 177, 500.00
of consortium, love and affection, service and society of her
husband $250, 000.00
October 11, 2016, the trial court signed a judgment in
accordance with the jury verdict. On October 24, 2016, the
defendants filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the
Verdict (JNOV) or alternatively, a Motion for New Trial
(MFNT). These motions were denied in a judgment signed on
December 22, 2016. The notice of the signing of the judgment
was sent to the parties on January 3, 2017. Thereafter, the
defendants suspensively appealed.
defendants pleaded a JNOV alternatively with a
MFNT. A JNOV should be granted only if the trial
court, after considering the evidence in the light most
favorable to the party opposed to the motion, finds it points
so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of the moving party
that reasonable persons could not arrive at a contrary
verdict on that issue. Broussard v. Stack, 95-2508
(La.App. 1 Cir. 9/27/96), 680 So.2d 771, 779-780. If there is
evidence opposed to the motion that is of such quality and
weight that reasonable and fair-minded men in the exercise of
impartial judgment might reach different conclusions, the
motion should be denied. Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 2000-0445 (La. 11/28/00), 774 So.2d 84, 89. In
making this determination, the court should not weigh the
evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or substitute
its judgment of the facts for that of the jury.
Broussard, 680 So.2d at 780. The standard to be
applied by the appellate courts in reviewing the denial of a
JNOV is whether the trial court's findings in rendering
the JNOV were manifestly erroneous. Id.
contrast to a JNOV, the MFNT requires a less stringent test
than for a JNOV, as such a determination involves only a new
trial and does not deprive the parties of their right to have
all disputed issues resolved by a jury. Davis, 774
So.2d at 93. In considering a MFNT, the trial judge is free
to evaluate the evidence without favoring either party; he
may draw his own inferences and conclusions and may evaluate
the credibility of the witnesses to determine if the jury has
erred in giving too much credence to an unreliable witness.
Broussard, 680 So.2d at 781. The trial court's
discretion in ruling on a MFNT is great, and its decision
will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of that
discretion. Davis, 774 So.2d at 93. However, the
fact that a determination on a MFNT involves judicial
discretion does not imply that the trial court can freely
interfere with any verdict with which it disagrees.
Id. Fact-finding is the province of the jury, and
the trial court must not overstep its duty in overseeing the
administration of justice and unnecessarily usurp the
jury's responsibility. Id. A ...