Jury award to plaintiff affirmed where defendant presented evidence that some damages were not caused by the car accident.

Where plaintiff and defendant presented contradicting credible evidence regarding whether all of plaintiff’s claimed injuries were caused by the car accident at issue, the trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion for new trial based on her assertion that the jury’s award did not adequately compensate her for her injuries was affirmed.

In Besses v. Killian, No. M2021-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2023), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident when they approached traffic on the interstate that had slowed significantly and defendant rear-ended plaintiff’s car. Both plaintiff and defendant were able to move their cars to the side of the road after the accident, and both drove their cars away and declined medical treatment after the police took a report.

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that she sustained injuries including “a bruised right knee, a neck strain, a lower back strain, a concussion, and chronic headaches, including migraines.” Plaintiff sought damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Defendant admitted fault but challenged the damages claimed by plaintiff, asserting that some of the medical expenses and injuries were not caused by the accident. After a two-day jury trial, the jury awarded plaintiff $16,720, which included $12,270 for medical expenses, $3,000 for past pain and suffering, $1,00 for past loss of enjoyment of life, and no award for future pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. Plaintiff filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the jury’s award “did not adequately compensate her for her injuries and was inconsistent with the evidence offered at trial,” but the trial court denied the motion and confirmed the jury verdict. On appeal, this ruling was affirmed.

Juries are charged with resolving issues of disputed facts, including “the type and amount of any damages awarded to the plaintiff.” (internal citation omitted). The jury’s verdict, however, “is subject to the supervision of the trial court.” (internal citation omitted). When a party is dissatisfied with the verdict and moves for a new trial, “the trial court has such broad discretion that it is not bound to give reasons for its action in granting or denying a new trial based on the preponderance of the evidence.” (internal citation and quotation omitted). In fact, if “a trial judge approves the verdict without comment, the appellate court will presume that the trial judge has adequately performed his function as the thirteenth juror.” (internal citation and quotation omitted).

In this case, plaintiff and defendant presented contradicting evidence regarding whether plaintiff’s claimed damages were related to the car accident. Plaintiff presented testimony from herself about when she noticed her injuries and when she sought treatment, and she also presented testimony from her two treating doctors, both of whom testified that the injuries they treated were caused by the accident. Defendant, on the other hand, testified about the minor nature of the accident and presented his own medical expert, who stated that plaintiff had not been placed on any restrictions and that “there were no objective findings of any anatomical derangements and no description from any diagnostic tests of any acute abnormalities structurally” in plaintiff’s records. Further, during cross examination by defendant, plaintiff’s doctors both testified that their findings were based on plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and the neurologist agreed that migraines and headaches can be caused by a number of things and that plaintiff did not seek neurological treatment until more than a year after the accident.

After reviewing the evidence presented, the Court explained:

Although Plaintiff presented competent and credible evidence to support her claims that her headaches and other injuries were caused by the accident, Defendant presented competent and credible evidence upon which the jury could conclude that some of the claimed injuries, including her migraines and headaches, and the attendant medical services and expenses were not the result of the accident or Defendant’s conduct. …As noted earlier, we entrust the responsibility of resolving questions of disputed fact, including the assessment of damages, to the jury. …Here, the trial court denied the motion for new trial without comment. Thus, we presume that the trial court adequately performed its function as the thirteenth juror. …[W]e find no abuse of discretion with the trial court’s decision to deny Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

(internal citations and quotations omitted). Denial of the motion for new trial was thus affirmed.

This opinion was released 4.5 months after oral arguments in this case.

Note:  Chapter 25, Section 10 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.

Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law contains summaries of leading cases on over 500 topics and citations to more than 1500 additional cases.  The 500,000+ word book  (and two others, Tennessee Law of Civil Trial and Compendium of Tennessee Tort Reform Cases) is available by subscription at www.birddoglaw.com and is continually updated as new decisions and statutes impact Tennessee law.  Click on the link to see the book’s Table of Contents.

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