722 F.Supp. 1146 (D.Del. 1989), Civ. A. 88-17, Newman v. Exxon Corp.

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 88-17
Citation:722 F.Supp. 1146
Party Name:Newman v. Exxon Corp.
Case Date:October 05, 1989
Court:United States District Courts, 3th Circuit, District of Delaware
 
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Page 1146

722 F.Supp. 1146 (D.Del. 1989)

William J. and Debra A. NEWMAN, Plaintiffs,

v.

EXXON CORPORATION and Francis Quinn, Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 88-17-JLL.

United States District Court, D. Delaware.

Oct. 5, 1989

Bayard J. Snyder of Phillips & Snyder, Wilmington, Del., for plaintiffs.

James F. Harker and James S. Yoder of Herlihy, Harker & Kavanaugh, Wilmington, Del., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LATCHUM, Senior District Judge.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This diversity action arises out of a motor vehicle accident which occurred on December 19, 1986. Plaintiff William Newman ("William"), while at the wheel of a disabled vehicle owned by his brother, was coasting downhill in the northbound lane of Rt. 13 when the vehicle was struck in the rear by a tanker truck. The tanker truck was owned by defendant Exxon Corporation ("Exxon"), and was driven by Exxon's

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employee, defendant Francis Quinn ("Quinn").

William allegedly suffered injuries as a result of the collision. He brought this suit charging Quinn with negligence, and asserting that Exxon was vicariously liable for Quinn's negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (See Docket Item ["D.I."] 1 at ¶ ¶ 5-12.) William's wife, Debra Newman ("Debra"), joined in the action as a party plaintiff. Debra's claim against defendants is for loss of consortium. (See D.I. 1 at ¶ ¶ 13-14.)

The case was tried before a jury on July 17 through July 19, 1989. The jury found that: (1) defendants Quinn and Exxon were negligent; (2) William sustained damages of $10,000 on his personal injury claim; (3) Debra suffered damages of $10,000 on her claim for loss of consortium; and (4) William was contributorily negligent, his negligence comprising 50% of the total fault for the accident. (D.I. 58 [Verdict Sheet].) In accordance with the Delaware comparative negligence statute, the Court reduced the awards to William and Debra by 50%, reflecting the comparative fault attributed to William. See 10 Del.C. § 8132. Hence the Court entered judgment against defendants in favor of William for $5,000, and in favor of Debra, also for $5,000. (See D.I. 56.)

Presently before the Court is a motion filed by defendants for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("judgment n.o.v."), on Debra's loss of consortium claim. 1 (D.I. 59.) For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, defendants' motion will be granted.

II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR JUDGMENT N.O.V.

Rule 50(b), Fed.R.Civ.P., authorizes the entry of a judgment n.o.v. in appropriate circumstances. The legal standard governing a motion for judgment n.o.v. is identical to that for a directed verdict under Rule 50(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. 2 Neville Chemical Co. v. Union Carbide Corp., 422 F.2d 1205, 1210 n. 5 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 826, 91 S.Ct. 51, 27 L.Ed.2d 55 (1970); 9 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2524 at pp. 541-52 & n. 27, § 2537 at p. 599 (1971) [hereinafter Wright & Miller]. It is a rather stringent standard. Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 119 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 937, 104 S.Ct. 348, 78 L.Ed.2d 314 (1983).

"In considering a motion for judgment n.o.v., a court is not free to weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment of the facts for that of the jury." Aloe Coal Co. v. Clark Equipment Co., 816 F.2d 110, 113 (3d cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 853, 108 S.Ct. 156, 98 L.Ed.2d 111 (1987). Although a court in viewing the evidence of record may have reached a different conclusion from that reached by the jury, that alone is not reason to enter judgment n.o.v. Entry of judgment n.o.v. is appropriate only where the court finds, as a matter of law, that no reasonable jury could have found in favor of the nonmoving party--that is, that no reasonable jury could have found for plaintiff Debra Newman. See, e.g., National Controls Corp. v. National Semiconductor Corp., 833 F.2d 491, 495 (3d Cir.1987); Aloe Coal v. Clark Equipment Co., 816 F.2d at 113; Marsh v. Interstate and Ocean Transport Co., 521 F.Supp. 1007, 1008 (D.Del.1981).

The Court must view all evidence, and any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Bhaya v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 832 F.2d 258, 259, 260, 262 (3d Cir.1987), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1004, 109 S.Ct. 782, 102 L.Ed.2d 774 (1989); Acosta v. Honda Motor Co., 717 F.2d 828, 839-40 (3d Cir.1983);

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Massarsky v. General Motors, 706 F.2d at 117. The jury's verdict, however, can withstand a motion for judgment n.o.v. only if it is based upon more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 846 (3d Cir.1978); G.H. & M. Construction and Development Co. v. Municipal Sewer and Water Auth. of Cranberry Township, No. 80-657-G (W.D.Pa. March 23, 1983); 9 Wright & Miller § 2524 at pp. 542-43 & n. 30, p. 547. In this case, the Court's task is to decide whether the record is critically deficient of that minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief to Debra on her loss of consortium claim. See, e.g., National Controls v. National Semiconductor, 833 F.2d at 495; Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d at 846; Denneny v. Siegel, 407 F.2d 433, 439 (3d Cir.1969).

Having outlined the legal standard for entry of judgment n.o.v., the Court will now review the elements of a loss of consortium claim, prior to determining whether the jury's verdict thereon was patently unreasonable.

III. ELEMENTS OF A CLAIM FOR LOSS OF CONSORTIUM

As the plaintiff in this action, Debra bore the burden of proving at trial, by a preponderance of the evidence, all of the elements of a loss of consortium claim. Under Delaware law, a claim for loss of consortium consists of three elements: (1) the party asserting the claim [i.e. Debra] must have been married to the person who suffered the physical injury [i.e. William] at the time the injury occurred; (2) as a result of the physical injury, the spouse asserting the loss of consortium claim [i.e. Debra] must have been deprived of some benefit which formerly existed in the marriage; and (3) the physically injured spouse [i.e. William] must have had a valid cause of...

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