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Lisa Wright v. Daniel Wayne Wilson

May 15, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Joel D. Yates, Judge.

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

Plaintiff in a tort suit argues the damages awarded by the jury are inadequate. AFFIRMED.

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

Lisa Wright appeals from a district court ruling denying her motion for new trial following a jury verdict in her personal injury action against Daniel Wayne Wilson. Wright argues the trial court abused its discretion because the jury's verdict is inadequate, unsupported by the evidence, and fails to do justice between the parties. She requests a partial new trial on damages. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On September 8, 2006, Wright, a mail carrier, was driving a full-size mail truck. Wright was stopped at a stop sign when her truck was struck from behind by Wilson's vehicle. Wright unbuckled her seatbelt and, as she stood up, Wilson's vehicle hit her truck a second time causing her head to hit "the rubber piece of the top of the window." No medical personnel were called, and Wright finished her mail route.

In September 2008, Wright sued Wilson to recover damages for her injuries. During the May 2012 trial, Wilson stipulated the 2006 accident was his fault. The jury awarded Wright $12,500 in damages-$2500 for past medical expenses and $10,000 for past physical and mental pain and suffering. The jury declined to award damages for past loss of function of the body, past loss of earnings, and future physical and mental pain and suffering. Wright filed a motion for additur or, alternatively, for a partial new trial on damages. The trial court denied the motion.

II. Scope and Standards of Review.

The district court has broad but not unlimited discretion in determining whether a verdict effectuates substantial justice between the parties. Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(c). Whether damages are so inadequate to warrant a new trial is a determination for the trial court, and we will not disturb its discretion to grant or deny the motion unless an abuse of discretion is shown. Fisher v. Davis, 601 N.W.2d 54, 57 (Iowa 1999). "We are slower to interfere with the grant of a new trial than with its denial." Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(d).

III. Merits.

During the 2012 trial, Wright testified the accident resulted in her suffering from severe and unrelenting headache pain that disrupted her sleep. Wright also testified she missed work for her doctor appointments and because of headache or neck pain. Wright admitted she does not have documentation showing the days she missed work due to appointments or pain. Wright contends undisputed evidence shows her past medical expenses related to the accident total $17,657.54.

Wilson responds the evidence shows Wright suffered some neck and shoulder pain after the accident, but he disputes whether all her claimed past medical bills through January 2012 relate to the September 2006 accident. Wilson argues the evidence shows she had several injuries and ailments clearly unrelated to the accident as well as gaps in her treatment for her neck and shoulder pain. Further, Wilson claims the medical notes do not support her claim of continuous headache pain. Wilson points out Wright failed to call any of the medical providers who treated her in the years immediately following the accident as witnesses, relying only on the testimony of Dr. Timothy J. Miller and physical therapist John Voyles. We turn to the evidence in the record.

A. Medical History. The day after the accident, Wright sought treatment from Ted Norton, her chiropractor since 1997. Prior to the accident, Wright had treatments from Norton for her neck, hips, and low back. Norton's work-release note from the visit states: "Lisa Wright was seen in our office today 9-9-06 due to a back problem. Excuse her from work today." Wright did not return for additional treatments. On September 11, Wright bowled with her bowling team. She testified, however, the pain and restrictions after the accident prevented future bowling and also limited many of her other activities.

One week after the accident, on September 15, 2006, Wright sought treatment from Judy Book, ARNP, who diagnosed neck strain. Book noted Wright had full range of motion in her neck and shoulders and she did not note a complaint of headache pain. Wright testified Book just failed to write down her headache pain. After reviewing Wright's 9-15-06 x-rays, the radiologist reported: "Minimal degenerative change ...

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