review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Stuart P.
exonerated in jury trial seeks further review of court of
appeals decision including him in retrial necessitated by
error in the verdict form affecting the other defendant.
DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT COURT
Pressley Henningsen and Benjamin P. Long of RSH Legal, P.C.,
Cedar Rapids, for appellant.
Patrick L. Woodward and Ryan F. Gerdes of McDonald, Woodward
& Carlson, P.C., Davenport, for appellees Ron McConnaha
and Jodi McConnaha.
appeal, we must decide whether the retrial of a comparative
fault action must include a defendant exonerated by the first
jury. The plaintiff was a passenger on her
fiancé's motorcycle and suffered personal injuries
in its collision with a farm tractor that was turning left
while the motorcyclist attempted to pass it on a county road.
The plaintiff's negligence claims against the farmer and
motorcyclist were submitted to the jury. The first question
asked whether the farmer was at fault, and the jury answered
"no." The verdict form, in a mistake overlooked by
all counsel and the judge, instructed the jury to stop there,
and the jury was discharged without deciding whether the
motorcyclist was at fault. The plaintiff moved for a new
trial against both defendants. The farmer resisted, and the
district court ordered a new trial against the motorcyclist
alone. The plaintiff appealed, and we transferred her case to
the court of appeals, which reversed and remanded the case
for a new trial involving both defendants. We granted the
farmer's application for further review.
review, we hold the district court correctly omitted the
farmer from the new trial. The error in the verdict form
prevented the jury from considering the negligence of the
motorcyclist, but only after the jury had exonerated the
farmer, who should not have to suffer a retrial. Our
precedent and cases in other jurisdictions excuse an
exonerated defendant from a retrial when the jury's
no-liability finding is untainted by the error affecting
another party. Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the
court of appeals and affirm the district court's ruling
granting a new trial on the plaintiff's claims against
the motorcyclist alone.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
jury could find these facts from the trial record. On June
27, 2015, Marsha Whitlow was a passenger on a motorcycle
operated by her fiancé, Timothy Newton, heading south
on a paved, two-lane county road. The weather was clear with
no precipitation, and the pavement was dry. The speed limit
was fifty-five miles per hour. At about 4 p.m., Newton
approached a 1976 John Deere farm tractor operated by Ron
McConnaha towing a hay rake at ten to fifteen miles per hour
in the same southbound lane. The tractor's hazard lights
were flashing on the roof of the cab. McConnaha slowed
further and activated his left turn signal as he approached a
field entrance. He turned his tractor to the left to enter
the field while Newton's motorcycle attempted to pass him
in the oncoming (northbound) lane. The motorcycle struck the
tractor, and Whitlow suffered severe injuries. Emergency
personnel airlifted Whitlow to the University of Iowa
Hospitals and Clinics where she was treated for a broken
neck, leg fractures, rib fractures, and multiple contusions.
filed this civil action against Ron McConnaha and his spouse
Jodi McConnaha, co-owners of the tractor. Whitlow alleged
Ron McConnaha was negligent in operating his tractor, and his
negligence caused the accident. McConnaha filed a third-party
contribution claim against Newton, alleging his negligent
operation of the motorcycle caused Whitlow's injuries,
and Whitlow amended her petition to allege her own direct
negligence claim against her fiancé. The case
proceeded to a six-day jury trial that began on February 26,
2018. Without objection from any party, the trial court
submitted the case to the jury with the following verdict
form, which contained an unnoticed error in the bracketed
instruction immediately after the first
Jury, find the following verdict on the questions submitted
QUESTION NO. 1: Was Ronald McConnaha at
Answer "yes" or "no."
[If your answer is no, do not answer any further
questions and sign the verdict form. If your answer is yes,
answer Question No. 2.]
QUESTION NO. 2: Was the fault of Ronald
McConnaha a cause of any item of damage to the ...