from the Iowa District Court for Buchanan County, Joel
Naber appeals the district court's denial of his motion
for new trial in this negligence action. Craig Naber
cross-appeals, seeking interest on the jury award to begin on
the date of the negligent conduct.
L. Riley of Swisher & Cohrt, P.L.C., Waterloo, for
Bradley M. Arnold of Kolb Clare & Arnold, P.C., Buffalo
Grove, Illinois, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.
(Jerry) Naber appeals the district court's denial of his
motion for new trial following a jury verdict finding him
negligent for destruction of a tractor and attachment owned
by his brother, Craig Naber. On appeal, Jerry seeks a new
trial on the basis of (1) testimonial references to an
insurance company, (2) the court's classification of
certain witnesses as experts, (3) witness testimony regarding
the reasonableness of Jerry's conduct, (4) the
court's refusal to permit certain testimony, and (5) the
theories of negligence presented to the jury. Craig
cross-appeals, arguing interest in the judgment should accrue
from the date of loss rather than the date the action
Background Facts and Proceedings
events giving rise to this cause of action occurred on
October 19, 2015. The weather that day was dry and windy;
there was both a burn ban and red-flag warning in effect. Jerry
and Craig both work as farmers. Craig rents farmland from his
mother, and Jerry sometimes stores grain in a grain bin on
the land Craig rents. Both men tended to their respective
farming duties on October 19. Craig and his farmhand, Leslie
Stacy, performed maintenance on a combine. As they worked,
Jerry arrived to clean out and use the grain bin. Earlier,
Craig combined some of his corn crop immediately adjacent to
the bin so Jerry could access it. Jerry's son arrived to
help him. As the two worked, Jerry's pickup truck was
parked over the dry combined corn stalks, which stood roughly
one-and-a-half feet tall. The corn stalks ignited, starting a
field fire, and Jerry quickly alerted Craig and Stacy to the
fire while his son called 911.
used a tractor and chisel-plow attachment to create a dirt
berm along the fire to prevent it from spreading. During this
process, the fire reached the tractor multiple times. At one
point, Craig noticed his front, right tire was on fire.
Around this time, he saw someone, who he believed to be a
firefighter, nearby and requested assistance. The individual
did not try to put out the fire and instead drove away.
Eventually, the field fire was extinguished, but Craig's
tractor was destroyed and his chisel plow attachment was
November 2016, Craig brought this negligence action against
Jerry. Following a three-day trial in January 2018, a jury
found Jerry negligent and awarded Craig $198, 100 in damages.
Jerry moved for a new trial, which the district court denied.
Craig petitioned for costs associated with the proceedings
and moved to amend the judgment to accrue interest from the
date of the fire rather than the date the action commenced.
The district court ordered the judgment to include costs but
denied the motion to amend the judgment. Jerry appeals and
Craig cross-appeals. Additional facts will be set forth below
as are relevant to the issues raised on appeal.
Standards of Review
standard of review when reviewing a denial of a "motion
for new trial depends on the grounds raised in the
motion." Winger v. CM Holdings, L.L.C., 881
N.W.2d 433, 445 (Iowa 2016) (quoting Clinton Physical
Therapy Servs., P.C. v. John Deere Health Care, Inc.,
714 N.W.2d 603, 609 (Iowa 2006)). Because evidentiary rulings
are reviewed for an abuse of discretion, we review
Jerry's claims the district court's admission of
certain evidence warrants a new trial for an abuse of
discretion. See Mohammed v. Otoadese, 738 N.W.2d
628, 631 (Iowa 2007) (noting evidentiary rulings are reviewed
for an abuse of discretion); Clinton Physical Therapy
Servs., P.C., 714 N.W.2d at 609 ("If the motion for
a new trial was based on a discretionary ground, we review it
for an abuse of discretion." (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted)). "A court abuses its discretion
when its ruling is based on grounds that are unreasonable or
untenable." In re Trust No. T-1 of Trimble, 826
N.W.2d 474, 482 (Iowa 2013). The "grounds for a ruling
are unreasonable or untenable when they are based on an
erroneous application of the law." Id. A new
trial is not warranted "unless a different result would
have been probable in the absence of misconduct."
Loehr v. Mettille, 806 N.W.2d 270, 277 (Iowa 2011).
review alleged errors in jury instructions for legal error.
See Rivera v. Woodward Res. Ctr., 865 N.W.2d 887,
891 (Iowa 2015). An error in jury instructions does not
require reversal unless it resulted in prejudice. See
id. at 892. Prejudice occurs when the jury is misled or
if the instructions materially misstate the law. See
award and calculation of prejudgment interest is reviewed for
errors at law. See Gosch v. Juelfs, 701 N.W.2d 90,
91 (Iowa 2005). When substantial evidence "support[s]
the trial court's decision, we are bound by its
fact-finding," but "[w]e are not bound . . . by the
trial court's application of legal principles."
Id. We strictly construe "Iowa statutes
providing for recovery of costs." Hughes v.
Burlington N. R.R. Co., 545 N.W.2d 318, 321 (Iowa 1996).
first claim of error, Jerry argues references made to
insurance throughout the proceedings necessitate a new trial.
The district court sustained Jerry's motion in limine
prohibiting references to liability insurance stating,
"The parties should be precluded from making any
reference or discussions in the presence of the jury of any
sort relevant to insurance coverage." Additionally, Iowa
Rule of Evidence 5.411 prohibits "[e]vidence that a
person was or was not insured against liability . . . to
prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise
wrongfully." Evidence of insurance coverage is
prohibited because: (1) "the evidence is ordinarily
irrelevant to any issue in the case," (2) "it tends
to influence jurors to bring in a verdict against a defendant
on insufficient evidence," and (3) "it causes
jurors to bring in a larger verdict than they would if they
believed the defendant would be required to pay it."
Laguna v. Prouty, 300 N.W.2d 98, 101 (Iowa 1981).
counsel purportedly inquired into the jury's experience
with insurance claims during voir dire. Because the parties
elected to not have jury selection reported, we have no
record of the claimed improper questions. Further, there is
no record of timely objections by Jerry. Consequently,
error was not preserved on any claimed violation during voir
dire. See In re F.W.S., 689 N.W.2d 134, 135 (Iowa
2005) ("It is the appellant's duty to provide a
record on appeal affirmatively disclosing the alleged error
relied upon. The court may not speculate as to what took
place or predicate error on such speculation."); see
also Meier v. Senecaut, 641 N.W.2d 532, 537 (Iowa 2002)
(requiring an issue be "both raised and decided by the
district court before we will decide them on
references to insurance relate to comments made by an expert
witness, Steven Hamers. When describing who seeks out his
services as an expert witness, Hamers noted he is sometimes
retained by insurance carriers. He then identified materials
he reviewed during his trial preparation that discussed ways
to avoid field fires as produced by Grinnell Mutual
Insurance. Hamers explained Grinnell Mutual insures farm
equipment and insures many farmers in Iowa. On
cross-examination, defense counsel inquired if Hamers
considered the information from Grinnell Mutual to come from
an authoritative source but did not reference Grinnell Mutual
by name. Hamers confirmed counsel intended to reference the
Grinnell Mutual material by referring to it by
name. Although Grinnell Mutual served as
Jerry's insurance provider, no one at trial indicated
Grinnell Mutual insured Jerry or indicated Jerry carried
liability insurance generally. Simply put, no evidence