Injury at Store Leads to Case Involving Past, Present, Future Injuries

While Ms. Jo Anna Savant shopped at Hobby Lobby in Lafayette, two large, seventeen-pound clocks fell from a wall display and struck her on the head. She filed a suit against Hobby Lobby, alleging negligence.

Negligence is a common law tort that requires the victim to prove that the defendant had a duty to the victim, that the defendant breached that duty, that the defendant’s negligent conduct was the cause of the harm to the victim, and that the victim was, in fact, harmed. In this case, Ms. Jo Anna Savant was able to prove that Hobby Lobby was negligent. Even Hobby Lobby’s store manager testified that the manner in which the clocks were suspended on the display was unsafe.

The jury awarded Ms. Savant damages for past, present, and future physical pain and suffering, past lost wages and past medical expenses. The jury also awarded Ms. Savant’s children damages for loss of consortium because Ms. Savant was unable to spend quality time with them after she sustained her injuries. Loss of consortium is the deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to injuries caused by the defendant. Awards to children for loss of consortium compensate them for “loss of love and affection, society and companionship, aid and assistance, comfort and felicity.”

The jury did not award Ms. Savant damages for mental anguish, suffering, or disfigurement; loss of enjoyment of life; loss of future earnings or earning capacity; and past and future loss of household services. When Ms. Savant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”), the trial court granted JNOV in part and denied JNOV in part. The court increased the damages for past lost wages and past, present and future physical and mental pain and suffering. The court also awarded damages for past loss of household services and for loss of enjoyment of life.

JNOV, or judgment notwithstanding the verdict, is a type of judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) that is ordered at the conclusion of a jury trial. The presiding judge in a civil jury trial may overrule the decision of a jury and reverse or amend the jury’s verdict. JNOV is rarely granted because it is somewhat controversial for the judge to overrule the decision of a jury. However, if the judge believes that the jury’s decision should be amended in some manner, the judge can exercise this discretion. In this case, the judge thought it proper to award damages for certain things that the jury did not initially award damages for, and increased the amount awarded for other things.

The standard of review on appeal for determining whether JNOV was correctly granted or denied is the manifest error standard of review for special damages. The manifest error standard of review requires an inquiry as to whether the granting of the award was clearly wrong. JNOV can be overruled on appeal only if the court of appeals finds that the trial court was clearly wrong in awarding special damages.

The standard of review on appeal for determining whether JNOV was correctly granted or denied is the abuse of discretion standard for general damages. The abuse of discretion standard requires an inquiry as to whether the court displayed a clear abuse of discretion in awarding the damages. JNOV can be overruled on appeal only if the court of appeal finds that the trial court abused its discretion.

At issue on appeal is whether the trial court properly granted and denied JNOV when it increased the amount of general and special damages awarded to Ms. Savant. Hobby Lobby argued that the trial court erred when it increased the damages awarded to Ms. Savant. Ms. Savant argued that the trial court should have awarded her damages for loss of future earnings and loss of future household services as well.

Ms. Savant underwent her first cervical spine surgery in January 2009 due to her injuries caused by the falling clocks. A month following her first cervical spine surgery, she injured the site of surgical incision while trying to restrain her autistic son. After this incident, she continued to experience neck pain and numbness in her upper extremities, so she eventually underwent a second cervical spine surgery one year later.

Hobby Lobby argued that it should not be held responsible for the medical expenses of Ms. Savant’s second cervical spine surgery because that surgery had to be done because of her son’s behavior. Ms. Savant was struck in the head while struggling with her son. Hobby Lobby believes that the initial award that the jury determined for her past, present, and future physical pain and suffering was sufficient, and the subsequent increase granted by the trial court was inappropriate. Hobby Lobby believed the the injury she sustained from her son was an intervening cause that cut off Hobby Lobby’s liability to Ms. Savant.

An intervening cause will generally absolve the defendant of liability for the victim’s injury only if the event is a superseding cause. A superseding cause is an unforeseeable intervening cause. By contrast, a foreseeable intervening cause typically does not break the chain of causality, which means the defendant is still responsible for the victim’s injury.

In this case, the injury that Ms. Savant suffered while attempting to restrain her son was a foreseeable intervening cause because she had an autistic son who was difficult to restrain at times. Without the clock incident, the son would have never injured the site of her first surgical incision because she would not have had to undergo surgery in the first place. Therefore, her injuries and both surgeries were caused by and related to the Hobby Lobby incident. Therefore, granting an increase in the amount of damages was not clearly wrong or an abuse of the trial court’s discretion.The trial court appropriately granted and denied JNOV.

To ensure that you receive every penny you deserve in a civil injury case, contact the Berniard Firm at 504-527-6225. We will make sure you receive competent representation from the most capable attorneys.