Lewison v. Renner

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Lewison v. Renner

Case Number
S-17-0173
Call Date
November 3, 2017
Case Time
1:30 PM
Court Number
Buffalo
Case Location
Beatrice
Case Summary

S-17-0173 Barbara Lewison (Appellant) v. Carol Renner

Buffalo County District Court, Judge John H. Marsh

Attorneys: Michael Meister (for Appellant) – Jeffrey Jacobsen and Nicholas Norton (Jacobsen Orr for Appellee)

Civil: Negligence; damages

Proceedings below: The jury rendered a verdict for Lewison but awarded her no damages. The court entered judgment on the verdict and overruled Lewison’s motion for a new trial.

Issues: Whether the court erred in overruling Lewison’s motion for a new trial because the jury’s verdict was inadequate when comparative negligence was not at issue and Renner admitted that Lewison suffered some injury because of the accident.

Extended Case Summary

S-17-0173 Barbara Lewison (appellant) v. Carol Renner

Buffalo County District Court, Judge John H. Marsh

Attorneys: Michael Meister (for Barbara Lewison) – Jeffrey Jacobsen/Nicholas Norton (for Carol Renner)

Type of case: This is a civil case tried before a jury regarding negligence and damages from an auto accident.

Proceedings below: Lewison filed a negligence action in the district court based on injuries resulting from a car accident. In Renner’s answer, Renner admitted that her negligence caused the collision and that the “collision was the cause of some injury” to Lewison. But she denied the nature and the extent of Lewison’s claimed injuries and damages. The jury rendered a verdict for Lewison but awarded her no monetary damages. The court entered judgment on the verdict and overruled Lewison’s motion for a new trial. Lewison filed a Notice of Appeal and the Supreme Court moved this appeal to its docket for argument and disposition.

Issues argued on appeal: Whether the district court erred in overruling Lewison’s motion for a new trial because the jury’s verdict was inadequate when comparative negligence was not at issue and Renner admitted in her pleading that Lewison suffered some injury because of the accident.

Facts: Renner hit Lewison’s vehicle while turning left at an intersection. An eyewitness testified that Renner ran a red light. Lewison was taken to a hospital by ambulance. Lewison alleged that she sustained injuries to her wrist, neck, and back from the accident. The evidence showed that Lewison had history of back, neck, and wrist problems with several previous surgeries.

            In addition to her family physician, 2 other physicians testified for Lewison, and one expert testified for Renner. They all agreed that Lewison had sustained some injury, although they differed in the extent of her injuries because of her preexisting conditions. The doctor who performed her carpal tunnel surgeries in 2011 said it “possible” the accident had caused or contributed to her wrist injuries. Her pain doctor similarly said the accident did not help her back problems but that she would have had spinal disease progression regardless.

            Renner’s expert testified that he thought Lewison had sustained a sprain or strain and that her treatment at the emergency room was appropriate and that her treatment for about 4 to 6 weeks after the accident was appropriate and probably related to the accident. He testified her lingering pain was caused by her chronic back condition, coupled with degeneration of her spine.

            Jury instruction No. 2, in relevant part, stated the following:

The Defendant admits that she was negligent in the operation of a motor vehicle and that her negligence was the proximate cause of some injury to the Plaintiff. The Defendant denies the nature and extent of the Plaintiffs injury and damages. Based upon this admission the Court has found as a matter of law that the Defendant was negligent and her negligence was a proximate cause of the accident and you must accept those findings as true.

The court followed this statement with an instruction on the burden of proof and effect of the jurors’ findings:

B. BURDEN OF PROOF

            Before the Plaintiff can recover against the Defendant, the Plaintiff must prove, by the greater weight of the evidence the nature and extent of her damages proximately caused by the Defendant’s negligence.

C. EFFECT OF FINDINGS

If the Plaintiff has not met this burden of proof, then your verdict must be for the Defendant. On the other hand, if the Plaintiff has met this burden of proof, then your verdict must be for the Plaintiff.

Instruction No. 11 dealt with preexisting conditions: “There is evidence that the Plaintiff had injuries to her wrists, neck and back prior to date of the accident. The Defendant is liable only for any damages that you find to be proximately caused by the accident.”

            The jurors were given two verdict forms, one for Lewison and one for Renner. According to the court’s journal entry, they returned a verdict for Renner. Lewison moved for a new trial for irregularities in the proceedings that prevented her from having a fair trial and because the verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence or was contrary to law. After a hearing, the court overruled the motion for a new trial.

Lewison now appeals. Both sides submitted written briefs to the Supreme Court. After hearing arguments from both sides at an oral argument before the Supreme Court, the Court will submit the case for disposition, and will issue an opinion in the coming months.

Schedule Code
SC