A Tennessee truck crash case found its way to a jury trial, a plaintiff’s verdict, and a trip to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In Bachar v. Partin, No. M2015-00724-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding defendant 60 percent liable for a car accident.
The underlying facts of the case were that defendant truck driver “failed to stop in obedience to a stop sign and drove his truck into the intersection, causing [plaintiff], who had the right-of-way, to swerve and collide with another vehicle.” Although plaintiff and defendant did not actually collide, plaintiff brought suit against defendant alleging that his negligence had caused the accident. After a jury trial, defendant was found to be 60 percent at fault, while plaintiff was held 40 percent liable, and damages were awarded accordingly. Defendant appealed this decision on three grounds: (1) that the evidence did not support the jury’s liability findings; (2) that the evidence did not support the jury’s award of past and future lost wages for plaintiff; and (3) that juror misconduct occurred.
First, the Court of Appeals affirmed the liability apportionment. The Court noted that the evidence showed that the police officer responding to the accident estimated plaintiff’s speed at 43 miles per hour, while the speed limit was 30 miles per hour. The evidence also showed, however, that plaintiff had the right-of-way and that defendant “did not stop or attempt to stop” before entering the intersection. The Court held that “[t]aking the strongest view of the evidence in support of the verdict and affording reasonable inferences to sustain it, the evidence support[ed]” the jury’s finding of fault.
Next, the Court affirmed the award of past and future lost wages. Plaintiff testified at trial that he had “worked for 33 years doing siding, tin roofs, and gutters; that his work required him to climb ladders, carry materials and tools, and work with both hands; and that he worked 10 hours a day 4 to 5 days per week at $10 per hour.” Plaintiff also testified that after the accident he could only lift 3 pounds with his left arm and had lost mobility in that arm, and plaintiff’s doctor testified that this loss in use of his arm was due to the accident. The Court held that this evidence presented by plaintiff “support[ed] the award of damages for past and future lost earnings.”
Finally, the Court analyzed and dismissed defendant’s allegations of juror misconduct. Defendant argued that a new trial should have been given because there were “indications that at least one juror knew [plaintiff’s counsel] but did not reveal [that] fact[.]” In support of this allegation, defendant submitted an affidavit from one of his own lawyer’s employees who conducted phone interviews with six of the jurors after the trial. In rejecting this argument for a new trial, the Court first pointed out that defendant did not cite, nor had the Court found, any part of the record “where the entire jury panel or any juror was asked if she or he knew counsel for either party.” In fact, in plaintiff’s counsel’s remarks during voir dire he actually stated that he had practiced law in the area for some time, noting “[s]ome of you I know, some of you I do not know.” The record did not indicate that defendant’s counsel asked prospective jurors whether they knew plaintiff’s counsel, even after this statement, and thus the Court held that even if they credited the statements allegedly given in the interviews there was “no basis for us to determine…that the juror’s acquaintance with [counsel] would in any way invalidate the verdict.” Further, Tennessee law provides that “[p]arties seeking a new trial because of alleged jury misconduct must at the outset satisfy the court that they have admissible evidence on the issue.” (internal citation omitted). Here, the alleged statements indicating that a juror knew plaintiff’s counsel were made during deliberations, and Tenn. R. Evid. 606(b) makes statements made in the course of jury deliberations inadmissible. Thus, defendant had not shown that he had any admissible evidence on the issue, as required by Tennessee law.
Because the Court found no merit in the issues raised by defendant, the jury’s verdict was affirmed in totality.
The Court clearly made the correct decision in this case. The jury’s findings on both liability and damages were supported by the evidence, and defendant’s attempt to use an alleged jury issue that he completely ignored during the jury selection process was rightfully denied.