Small v. Sayre – Importance of a Skilled Injury Attorney
Gregg Hollander | December 5, 2016 | Car Accidents
In a perfect world, the truth would be the only thing that decided the outcome of a civil injury lawsuit. And of course, the truth is a critical element. But what also matters is how skillfully your attorney can present it. What facts, records, testimony can he or she bring to support your assertions? How well does he or she understand the technicalities and procedures? How well-equipped is their law firm to meet the requirements?
In the case of Small v. Sayre, several car accident victims, injured in a collision, were awarded lower damages than what they believed they were entitled to receive, based on the weight of evidence at trial. However on appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that because the verdicts were not first challenged before the trial court, all of the challenges were waived. This really comes down to a technical issue, and it illustrates why it is so important to have an experienced personal injury lawyer.
According to court records, plaintiff was idling in traffic with his wife and daughter when defendant rear-ended his vehicle. Plaintiff, his wife and daughter were each transported to the hospital, where they were treated, prescribed pain medication and advised to follow up with their primary care doctor. In the months and years that followed, the family members sought treatment for a variety of ailments they asserted were the result of the crash. Plaintiff sought treatment from doctors and chiropractors for neck and back pain. His wife sought treatment from a half dozen medical providers, including neurologists, chiropractors, an orthopedic surgeon and physical therapists. She suffered from chronic migraines and upper body pain. She was recommended for spinal fusion surgery, but ultimately did not undergo it, first due to her pregnancy and later due to cost.
Less than two years after the car accident, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and damages in excess of $100,000. Defendant ultimately conceded negligence, but disputed that the crash had caused plaintiffs’ injuries as well as the asserted cost of treatment. Defendant moved for partial summary judgment on the medical expense portion of plaintiffs’ claims, asserting those expenses were already covered by plaintiffs’ insurer. Trial court granted this.
The case proceeded to trial on remaining claims, with a jury finding defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the couple’s injuries, but not their daughter’s. Jurors awarded a total of $10,000 in damages for economic and non-economic damages. No motion was made to disturb the verdict before the trial court, either by a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial.
However, plaintiffs then filed an appeal to those verdicts, arguing several points of contention. They argued the awards were impermissibly inconsistent and also contrary to the weight of the evidence.
Defendant argued that these challenges were waived by personal injury plaintiffs because they never raised these issues before the trial court before appealing them. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with defendant in this case. Issues cannot be challenged for the first time on appeal because appellate courts do not weigh evidence anew. Generally, questions of whatever nature that aren’t raised and properly preserved for review in trial court aren’t noticed on appeal. The court in those cases will review for plain error, which means if there is some obvious mistakes that creates a high likelihood of injustice.
The purpose of requiring litigants to preserve their claims before the trial court – before a jury is dismissed – is to prevent “jury-shopping” by litigants who, by staying silent, might obtain a new trial before a new jury.
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Small v. Sayre, Nov. 25, 2016, Alaska Supreme Court