Order granting plaintiff new trial in rear-end collision case upheld

In Hacker v. Roddy, the Ohio Third District Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s order granting a new trial where the jury awarded the plaintiff a sum for medical expenses but no amount for noneconomic loss in a rear-end collision case. The Appeals Court also upheld the trial court’s decision not to give an instruction to the jury on comparative negligence.

Background

At 3:40 p.m. on a weekday in January, 2011, the plaintiff’s vehicle stalled on a two-lane bridge in Findlay, Ohio. The driver remained in the parked vehicle with her seatbelt fastened. She put the vehicle in "brake," activated her hazard lights, and called for help. Approximately five minutes later her vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle.

Procedural History

The driver and her husband filed a negligence claim against the driver of the other vehicle and the vehicle’s owner. Prior to trial the defendants admitted negligence in causing the collision.

The trial court refused the defendants’ request to give an instruction on the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, finding that the evidence did not warrant the instruction. The jury found the defendant driver liable on the negligence claim, and awarded the plaintiff $1,183 in economic loss and $0 in non-economic loss. The trial court granted a new trial to the plaintiff driver, holding that the jury erred in awarding the plaintiff driver a sum for medical expenses but no amount for noneconomic loss.

Jury Instruction on Comparative Negligence

The Appeals Court also upheld the trial court’s decision not to instruct the jury on comparative negligence. The plaintiff driver testified that she parked her disabled vehicle on the bridge after it stalled and was unable to coast. Due to the traffic conditions at that time of day, and accumulations of ice on the side of the bridge, the plaintiff driver decided that the safest thing to do was to remain in her vehicle with her seatbelt fastened. In view of this evidence, the Appeals Court agreed that a comparative negligence instruction was properly denied since there was no proof that the plaintiff driver breached a duty that proximately caused her own injuries.

Order for New Trial

The Appeals Court also affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant a new trial, finding that the jury’s award appeared to be based on an arbitrary number, and not supported by the evidence presented at the trial.

At trial the plaintiff submitted medical bills totaling $4,675.26. The patient’s portion, for which she was responsible after health insurance payments were applied, was $2,366.66.

The suit also asserted a claim for lost wages. The only evidence regarding lost wages was the plaintiff driver’s testimony that she earned $9.46 per hour and lost approximately 72 hours in wages as a result of her injury. The Appeals Court observed that, since the jury’s award of $1,183.00 was roughly half the amount for which the plaintiff remained responsible on the medical bills submitted to the jury, this suggested that one or more of the following scenarios took place during the jury’s deliberations:

  • The jury improperly considered insurance coverage in determining the amount of the plaintiff driver’s medical bills.
  • The jury improperly considered a comparative negligence theory of liability in assessing damages by apportioning some degree of fault attributable to the plaintiff driver.
  • The jury arrived at the verdict using some other "arbitrary, formulaic approach."

Individuals suffering loss due to another’s negligence or other wrongful acts should contact a competent attorney experienced in personal injury matters.