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Robin Hoffman v. Cydney Palmer and Lori Digman

February 27, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Marsha Bergan, Judge.

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

Appeal from the denial of a motion for new trial in a personal injury action. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Robin Hoffman appeals from the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial in a personal injury suit. He contends the court abused its discretion in denying his motion because the jury's verdict was contrary to the evidence and inadequate. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

In mid-December 2008, Hoffman and his wife were in their pickup truck traveling along a rural gravel road when Cydney Palmer drove out of her boyfriend's driveway into the road. Hoffman veered to avoid a collision, but the front of Palmer's car struck the rear passenger side panel of Hoffman's truck. The rear passenger side tire blew out, and Hoffman went off the road into a snow-filled ditch. The truck rolled over onto its passenger side. Hoffman and his wife climbed out of the driver's side door. They found Palmer crying in her vehicle. Hoffman told her "accidents happen" and tried to console her. Palmer, Hoffman, and his wife walked to the boyfriend's house and sat in the kitchen. Hoffman declined an offer to call for medical assistance.

In October 2010 Hoffman filed suit against Palmer alleging negligence and seeking damages for past and future loss of income, medical expenses, physical impairment, and pain and suffering. The matter came on for jury trial in April 2012. The jury heard evidence of Hoffman's pre-existing back problems, symptoms, and treatment. It also heard evidence of his post-accident back problems, symptoms, and treatment. The jury returned a unanimous verdict finding Cydney Palmer at fault for the accident and finding her fault was not a cause of any damage to Hoffman. The court accepted the verdict, found it contained no inconsistent answers, and ordered the case dismissed.

Hoffman filed a motion for new trial, alleging the jury's finding Palmer's fault was not a cause of damages was inconsistent with the evidence. Noting Hoffman did not specify any enumerated ground for a new trial under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.1004, the court considered three possibilities in its ruling:

1.1004(4) (inadequate damages appearing to be influenced by passion or prejudice), 1.1004(5) (error in fixing the amount of recovery, being too small for the injury alleged), and 1.1004(6) (verdict not sustained by sufficient evidence or contrary to law). The court found no indication of passion or prejudice and noted the jurors showed neither favor nor disfavor to either party. Concerning the evidence supporting the verdict, the court concluded:

The jury's verdict is supported by the record. The motor vehicle accident was the fault of Defendant Cydney Palmer. Evidence supporting the jury's verdict regarding fault was overwhelming. The tough issue in the case was the issue of causation. The Court properly instructed the jury as to the law.

The jury was called upon to reconcile medical evidence as well as other evidence to determine the facts. Both drivers involved in the accident (Plaintiff Hoffman and Defendant Palmer) testified that Mr. Hoffman walked away from his overturned truck, declined medical attention, and instead tried to comfort Ms. Palmer. Evidence was uncontroverted that Mr. Hoffman had increased his appointments with his chiropractor in the months and weeks before the accident. While reasonable minds could have differed, the Court has no hesitation in saying that eight jurors could reasonably have believed-based on the evidence or lack of evidence at trial-that Mr. Hoffman's unfortunate pain and medical condition was simply caused by his degenerative disc disorder, particularly in light of his work as a Linn County Heavy-Equipment Operator, and that the motor vehicle accident on December 13, 2008, was not the cause.

The court concluded it was not inconsistent to find Palmer at fault in the accident, but not the cause of Hoffman's injuries and pain.

II. Scope and Standards of Review

Generally, we review the denial of a motion for new trial for correction of errors at law. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; Ladeburg v. Ray, 508 N.W.2d 694, 697 (Iowa 1993). However, if the motion is based on a discretionary ground, such as the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict, we review for abuse of discretion. Ladeburg, 508 N.W.2d at 697; see Shepherd ...

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