Jury Errors Inspected by Lafayette Judge in Negligence Suit

Two clocks fell from a wall display in the Lafayette Hobby Lobby and struck a customer in the head. Jo Anna Savant brought a negligence suit seeking compensation for her accident-related damages. The case went to trial and the jury found for the plaintiff. The trial judge, finding errors in the jury’s verdict, set it aside, and issued a judgment even more favorable to the plaintiff.

The case went up on appeal.

The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal addressed four legal issues in this case: the trial court (1) setting aside of the judgment; (2) not charging the jury to determine Ms. Savant’s fault in the accident; (3) approving the award to plaintiff for the cost of her second cervical fusion surgery; and (4) awarding the loss of consortium to plaintiff’s children.

When a party is unsatisfied with a jury’s verdict, she can submit to the court a JNOV motion, asking the judge to set aside the jury’s verdict and issue his own. In this case, the judge granted the motion and set aside several rulings made by the jury. The trial judge set aside the jury’s findings on the issues of general damages; past lost wages; and past lost household services. He did not find error on the issues of loss of future earnings or future loss of household services.

A judge will grant a JNOV motion if he determines that the evidence “point[s] so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that the court believes that reasonable jurors could not arrive at a contrary verdict.” In reviewing the JNOV, the appellate court used a two-part analysis. First, the court determined whether the granting of the motion was proper, i.e. did the evidence point so strongly in favor of one party that reasonable jurors could not have arrived at a contrary verdict. Second, the appellate court applied the manifest error standard of review to the JNOV. The manifest error standard is a fairly deferential standard to the trial court.

The Court of Appeal found that the record indisputably showed Ms. Savant suffered neck pain as a result of the Hobby Lobby incident. Even defendant’s own expert testified that treatment will not likely improve her condition. The Court of Appeal further found that Ms. Savant experienced great pain and anxiety with her inability to function normally as a mother to her small children. She was an active individual until the accident and now can no longer participate in the enjoyable activities of her pre-accident life. The trial court rightly observed the evidence pointed undeniably in favor of the plaintiff and correctly awarded greater compensation for her damages.

On the loss of future household services and loss of future earning capacity, the Court of Appeal did not find that the evidence pointed so strongly in favor of one party that reasonable men could not reach different conclusions. Therefore, the trial court was correct in not setting aside these issues.The Court of Appeal affirmed the JNOV motion, finding that the motion was properly granted according to the “strongly and overwhelmingly in favor” standard and that there was no abuse of discretion by the trial court.

On the exclusion of Ms. Savant’s fault from the jury’s verdict form, the Court of Appeal found it to be harmless error. The record contained no evidence of Ms. Savant’s fault in the accident. On awarding the plaintiff the cost of her second cervical fusion surgery, the appellate court found that the jury was presented with more than sufficient medical testimony to find causation between the Hobby Lobby accident and her second surgery. In awarding the loss of consortium to plaintiff’s children, the jury had plenty of evidence on which to find that Ms. Savant could no longer be the active and engaged mother she was before the accident.

If you have been injured and seek compensation, please contact the Berniard Law Firm today to speak with an experienced attorney.