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Kaydon M. Turner v. Bobbi Ann Fransen

February 13, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clinton County, David H. Sivright Jr., Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle, J.

The plaintiff appeals a district court ruling denying her motion for new trial following a jury verdict in favor of the defendant in a personal injury action. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

Following a jury verdict in favor of the defendant, Bobbi Ann Fransen, in a personal injury action arising out of a car accident, the plaintiff, Kaydon Turner, sought a new trial based in part on claimed juror misconduct. She asserted that one juror impermissibly informed the other jurors about her experience with the type of vehicle driven by Fransen, thereby influencing the jury's finding of no fault. The district court rejected this argument, as do we.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Just before noon on April 16, 2007, Bobbi Fransen was driving her Jeep Cherokee home from class at a community college. She was traveling in the northbound lane on Highway 67. Kaydon Turner was behind her in a Dodge Neon. Turner said that as the Cherokee approached an intersection with a flashing yellow light, it signaled a right turn and moved into the right turn lane. Turner continued traveling straight ahead in her lane. All of a sudden, according to Turner, instead of turning right, the Cherokee turned left in front of her. Turner's much smaller vehicle went underneath Fransen's, flipping the higher profile Cherokee on its side.

Fransen's account of the accident was different. She said that as she approached the intersection, she slowed down and signaled a left turn towards her home. As she was turning, she was struck from behind by Turner's vehicle. Fransen denied signaling a right turn or moving into the right turn lane, stating she would have had no reason to do so because her home lay in the opposite direction.

The police officer that investigated the crash determined it occurred as Turner described based on the damage to the vehicles and their resting places on the road after the accident and his conversation with Turner at the scene. He did not speak with Fransen. Turner sued Fransen for the injuries she claimed to have sustained in the accident.

At the jury trial, Turner presented the testimony of an accident reconstructionist, whose opinion was aligned with the officer that investigated the accident. This expert explained the damage to the Neon, which was limited to the right front of the car, suggested it was "not a true rear-end collision." He stated that had it been "a straight-on rear collision, you would expect the front end to be collapsed all the way across." He also found it significant that the damage to the Cherokee was confined to its undercarriage with no damage to the rear bumper.

Despite the expert testimony in Turner's favor, the jury returned a verdict finding Fransen was not at fault in the accident. Turner filed a motion for new trial, alleging that after the trial she learned a juror had told the others that the juror's son "had a Jeep Cherokee with a lift and that it was dangerous and unstable." Turner believed this information had adversely influenced the jury, who heard testimony from Fransen that her Cherokee had been similarly equipped with a suspension lift kit. Turner additionally claimed the verdict was not sustained by sufficient evidence and the district court erred in not giving a requested jury instruction. The court rejected all of these grounds for relief.

Turner appeals.

II. Scope and Standards of Review.

The denial of a motion for new trial is reviewed based on the grounds asserted in the motion. See Fry v. Blauvelt, 818 N.W.2d 123, 128 (Iowa 2012). The claims of juror misconduct and instructional error present discretionary grounds for relief and are accordingly reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Giltner v. Stark, 219 N.W.2d 700, 710 (Iowa 1974) (juror misconduct); Schmitt v. Koehring Cranes, Inc., 798 N.W.2d 491, 495 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011) (refusal to give a requested instruction). The sufficiency of the evidence, on the other hand, presents a legal question. Fry, 818 N.W.2d at 128. We therefore review this ground for the correction of errors at law. Id.

III. Discussion.

A. Juror Misconduct.

We begin our analysis with the meat of Turner's appeal-her claim of juror misconduct. In an affidavit attached to Turner's new trial motion, the forewoman of the jury claimed as follows:

During the jury discussion, one of the jurors reported that she knew about Jeep Cherokees like Mrs. Fransen's because a member of her family, her son, had a Jeep Cherokee that had a lift on it, and that it was unstable and could roll over. Her son would not allow his girlfriend to ride in it because it was danger[ous] and could roll over.

Turner claims the information provided by the juror was "extraneous prejudicial information" entitling her to a new trial. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.1004(2). We disagree, though our courts' ...

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