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Wright v. National Interstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 30, 2018

TONJA WRIGHT, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, NOAH JACKSON
v.
NATIONAL INTERSTATE INSURANCE CO., ET AL.

         SECTION L (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          ELDON E. FALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Following a five-day jury trial, Plaintiff has timely filed the instant motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Rec. Doc. 169. Defendants oppose the motion. Rec. Doc. 174. The Court held oral argument on this matter on April 25, 2018.

         Separately, Defendant Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. has filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment. Rec. Doc. 171. No opposition has been filed regarding this motion.

         Having considered the parties' arguments, submissions, and applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         This case arose out of an alleged collision between two motor vehicles. On September 9, 2015, Plaintiff Tonja Wright was operating her 2011 Ford Escape in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, when she approached a truck that had stopped near a stop sign. Plaintiff claimed that instead of moving forward, the truck backed into her vehicle, pushing her vehicle several feet back. Ms. Wright's minor son, Noah Jackson, was also in her vehicle at that time. Plaintiff asserted that the collision occurred because of the negligence of Defendant Terry Poole, the truck driver. She brought this lawsuit, on behalf of herself and her son, to recover the monetary damages resulting from this incident.

         In response, Defendants claimed that the accident did not happen. Defendants argued that if the alleged accident did happen, it was caused by the actions of Ms. Wright. Furthermore, Defendants averred that even if there was an accident, Ms. Wright's injuries did not result from the alleged accident on September 9, 2015. Defendants asserted that a separate intervening and superseding event occurred that caused Ms. Wright's injuries, and that event is unrelated to Defendants in this case. Therefore, Defendants claimed they are not liable for Plaintiff's damages. The parties' conflicting positions created a question of fact for a jury to determine.

         B. Trial and Jury Verdict

         Trial for this case commenced on March 5, 2018. As part of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, she called Dr. Eric Lonseth, an expert in the field of pain management; Dr. Thad Broussard, an expert in the field of orthopedic surgery; herself; Lacy Sapp, an expert in the field of rehabilitation, vocational counseling and life care planning; Ralph Litolff, an expert economist; and Dr. Samer Shamieh, an expert in orthopedic spine surgery. After Plaintiff rested, Defendants presented their case, calling Layton Schmidt, an eyewitness to the accident; John Dupre, a grants and program director from the State of Louisiana; Channing Perry, an investigator who took surveillance videos of Plaintiff; Defendant Terry Poole; and Dwight Loftis, a representative of Mabe Trucking Co.

         Both sides gave closing arguments in the morning of March 8, 2018, and the jury began deliberation early afternoon. At 4:53 p.m., the Court was informed that a verdict had not been made. Thus, without objection from either party, the Court read its Allen charge, [1] borrowed and adopted from the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction (Civil Cases) Section 2.18. The Court then discharged the jury and ordered jurors to return the next day at 9:30 a.m. to continue deliberation.

         On March 9, 2018, at 11:50 a.m., the jury reached a verdict, which was read into the record at 12:23 p.m. The jury initially rendered the following findings:

1. Defendant Terry Poole collided his truck with Plaintiff Tonja Wright's vehicle.
2. Plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of that vehicular accident.
3. Both Defendant Terry Poole and Plaintiff Tonja Wright were negligent and their negligence were legal causes to Plaintiffs' injuries.
4. Both Defendant Terry Poole and Plaintiff Tonja Wright were equally at fault and liable.
5. Plaintiff Tonja Wright is entitled to receive $235, 000.00, less 50-percent, for past and future medical expenses. She is not awarded any compensation for past and future pain and suffering, past lost wages, future loss of earning capacity, and loss of consortium.
6. Plaintiff Noah Jackson, son of Tonja Wright, is not entitled to any damages.

See Rec. Doc. 162.

         After the jury presented this verdict, the Court highlighted an inconsistency with the award of damages based on Yarbrough v. Sturm, Ruger & Co., 964 F.2d 376 (5th Cir. 1992). The jury here awarded the sum of $235, 000.00 for past and future medical expenses, but nothing for past and future pain and suffering. In Yarbrough, the Fifth Circuit held that it was “inconceivable” that a jury could find for past and future medical expenses and past pain and suffering, but not for future pain and suffering. See Id. at 379. Likewise, in this case, the jury had not found compensation for past and future pain and suffering even though it awarded past and future medical expenses. Therefore, the Court rejected the jury's initial verdict and instructed them to continue deliberation in order to redress this issue.

         At 12:36 p.m., the jury returned from a second round of deliberation. See Rec. Doc. 161. The jury rendered the same findings regarding liability as their initial verdict-the parties were equally negligent-and awarded Plaintiff past and present medical expenses of $235, 000.00, plus $17, 000.00 for past and future pain and ...


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