A car accident victim will receive a new trial after a state supreme court ruled highly-prejudicial statements regarding the occupation and salary of the plaintiff’s husband were allowed before the jury prior to its verdict.
While the Mississippi Supreme Court declined to back the appellate court’s position that the jury’s determination contradicted the overwhelming weight of the evidence, justices nonetheless agreed a new trial was in order in Loyacono v. Travelers Insurance Company.
Car accident attorneys in Montgomery know that while this is an out-of-state case, both Mississippi and Alabama are “fault” -based tort systems when it comes to crash liability. Both states also require underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage to be offered by insurers, only to be released with a written waiver from the insured.
This case involves a clear determination of fault, undisputed injuries (though causation was brought into question) and a driver who lacked liability insurance.
According to court records, the crash happened in June 2005, when the victim watched as the at-fault driver began to back her car into the road in front of her. While the victim was able to bring her vehicle to a stop, the other driver still managed to back into her, hard enough that the victim had to be taken to the emergency room. She told emergency health care providers she was suffering from neck and back pain. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with muscle strain.
The at-fault driver didn’t have any insurance at the time of the crash. The plaintiff had an uninsured motorist policy with a limit of $2.5 million. She filed a claim with the insurer, seeking the full amount in recovery.
Before the trial, everyone was in agreement: The other driver had caused the crash and the insurer was responsible for any injuries the victim had incurred as a result. Medical experts from both sides agreed the victim suffered from muscle strain, though they disagreed about the degree (mild versus severe) and causation (the crash versus a pre-existing condition).
The jury was also told by the defense lawyer that the victim’s husband was a personal injury lawyer who won millions of dollars for clients in injury claims. He revealed information about her and her husband’s wealth, and indicating she demanded to be taken to the emergency room solely to rack up medical bills.
Although the issue of fault was not in question, the jury awarded the patient $0 in damages. The appellate court determined the jury ignored the overwhelming weight of the evidence, and tossed the verdict.
However, upon further review, the state supreme court found this was not the case, considering the defense’s medical expert had presented evidence that contradicted the plaintiff’s expert regarding the issue of causation, there was a basis for the jury’s findings.
Still, what the high court could not justify were the prejudicial statements made by defense counsel throughout the proceedings, which the trial court failed to address. The high court determined there was no choice except to remand.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.
Loyacono v. Travelers Insurance Company, June 19, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court
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Underinsured Motorist Benefits a Safety Net for Many Motorists, June 20, 2014, Montgomery Car Accident Lawyer Blog