11 Feb Virginia: Car Accident – a Lawyer’s Reinstatement
On January 10, 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld 4 separate jury awards totaling $10,577,000.00 in a two-vehicle accident trial in Circuit Court for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia. The case is Allied Concrete Co. v. Lester, Record No. 120074.
First, Allied Concrete held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant motorist a new trial in the truck crash case based on admitted “party misconduct”, i.e., a plaintiff’s “dishonest conduct” and his lawyer’s “unethical conduct”. The record demonstrated a “fair trial on the merits,” including “ample evidence that the trial court mitigated any prejudice”: “When it plainly appears from the record and the evidence given at the trial that the parties have had a fair trial on the merits and substantial justice has been reached, we will affirm the judgment notwithstanding the potential for a defect or imperfection in the process by which the judgment was obtained.” Id. at 12-14 and 23.
Second, Allied Concrete also found no abuse of discretion in the trial court refusing to grant a mistrial of the truck-car collision case for alleged juror misconduct. The finding of insufficient evidence to prove a “dishonest” answer to a voir dire question was affirmed. Id. at 14-18 and 23.
Third, Allied Concrete reversed the trial court’s grant of remittitur and reinstated the jury’s award on the wrongful death claim. Id. at 22-23. It held that the trial court impermissibly compared the jury’s damage awards of $1,000,000.00 to each of the deceased’s parents and of $6,227,000.00 to the surviving husband as a supposed measure of disproportion and excessiveness of the latter. Id. at 20-21.
It also held that the trial court failed to make a “reasoned evaluation of the damages” – to even “examine the damages specific” to each plaintiff – and simply equated the wrongful death damages of each plaintiff impermissibly, despite “the inherent differences in the two types of relationships,” i.e., spousal and parental. Id. at 22-24. The Allied Concrete dissent proclaimed “the last nail in the coffin of remittitur has been driven, sounding a death knell”. Id. at 23-29.