Crawford v. Shelter General Insurance Co.

Decision Date28 July 2021
Docket Number2020 CA 0494
PartiesKIERA CRAWFORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF SANIYA CRAWFORD AND MALCOLM CRAWFORD v. SHELTER GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND MATTHEW LABEE
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

KIERA CRAWFORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF SANIYA CRAWFORD AND MALCOLM CRAWFORD
v.

SHELTER GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND MATTHEW LABEE

No. 2020 CA 0494

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

July 28, 2021


NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 643, 773 Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

W. Paul Wilkins Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorney for Plaintiff/Appellant, Kier a Crawford

Sallie C. Dupont Kolby P. Marchand Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees, Shelter General Insurance Company and Matthew Labee

BEFORE: McDONALD, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

PENZATO, J.

Plaintiff, Kiera Crawford, appeals a judgment rendered in accordance with a jury verdict, as well as a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and alternative motion for new trial, contending the jury erred in its award of general damages. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 15, 2014, Ms. Crawford was involved in a motor vehicle collision with a tractor-trailer driven by defendant Matthew Labee. Ms. Crawford was operating her vehicle, traveling in the eastbound right outside lane of Greenwell Springs Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when Mr. Labee changed lanes and collided with Ms. Crawford's vehicle. Ms. Crawford filed the instant suit against Mr. Labee and Shelter General Insurance Company, his insurer, seeking damages for personal injuries, including pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, property damage, and medical and other expenses.[1] In January 2019, the case was tried before a jury. The jury concluded Mr. Labee was solely at fault in causing the December 15, 2014 accident and that Ms. Crawford sustained damages that were caused by the accident. The jury awarded Ms. Crawford $50, 000.00 in past medical expenses[2]and $1, 000.00 for physical pain and suffering, past and future.[3] The jury declined to make any award for future medical expenses, past and future mental anguish and distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Judgment was signed on February 20, 2019, in accordance with the jury verdict. Arguing that the jury's verdict regarding damages was not supported by the evidence presented at trial, Ms. Crawford filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") and/or motion for new trial, which the trial court denied by judgment signed August 8, 2019. Ms. Crawford appeals the trial court's February 20, 2019 and August 8, 2019 judgments.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

Ms. Crawford urges the following assignments of error:

(1) The trial jury erred in its award for general damages
(2) The trial judge erred in applying the criteria used to grant or deny a JNOV
(3) The trial jury manifestly erred in its award for damages therefore, the trial judge should have granted Ms. Crawford's JNOV.
(4) The trial judge abused its discretion in denying Ms. Crawford's motion for new trial.

LAW AND DISCUSSION

A person injured through the fault of another is entitled to full indemnification for his resulting damages. See La. C.C. art. 2315; Mitchell v. Access Medical Supplies, Inc., 2015-0305 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/9/15), 184 So.3d 118, 120. It is the plaintiff's burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the damages he suffered as a result of the defendant's fault. Mitchell, 184 So.3d at 120. A jury is given great discretion in its assessment of quantum, as to both general and special damages. See La. C.C. art. 2324.1; Guillory v. Lee, 2009-0075 (La. 6/26/09), 16 So.3d 1104, 1116.

General damages are those which may not be fixed with pecuniary exactitude; instead, they involve mental or physical pain or suffering, inconvenience, the loss of gratification or physical enjoyment, or other losses of life or life-style which cannot be measured definitely in monetary terms. Waters v. Hebert, 2019-0435 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/20/19), 291 So.3d 278, 283.

Under La. C.C. art. 2324.1, a jury has much discretion in the assessment of general damages. However, when a jury awards special damages but declines to award general damages, a reviewing court must first determine whether the jury's finding is so inconsistent as to constitute an abuse of its much discretion. McDowell v. Diggs, 2017-0755 (La.App. 1 Cir. 10/3/18), 264 So.3d 489, 502.

Award of general damages

In her first assignment of error, Ms. Crawford contends that the jury erred in its award of general damages.

At trial, Ms. Crawford testified that the impact from the December 15, 2014 collision with Mr. Labee's vehicle pushed her vehicle onto the curb. According to Ms. Crawford, immediately after the accident, she was frightened and concerned for her children, who were in the car with her, and drove to her aunt's house. While at her aunt's house, she began to feel pain in her neck, shoulder, and back, and went to Baton Rouge General Medical Center for assessment.

The records from Baton Rouge General Medical Center reflect that Ms. Crawford presented to the Emergency Room on December 15, 2014, complaining of left-sided neck pain, left lower back pain and left hand pain, secondary to being involved in a motor vehicle accident two hours prior to arrival. She was diagnosed with hand pain, cervical strain, and lumbar strain, prescribed 800 mg Ibuprofen, and advised to follow up with her primary care physician in 1-2 days.

On December 31, 2014, Ms. Crawford saw Dr. Mary Thomas at the Bluebonnet Family Clinic as a new patient. Ms. Crawford complained of back pain, which she indicated started after the December 15, 2014 accident. She also complained of headaches associated with high blood pressure. Vital signs included a body mass index of 42.9 and elevated blood pressure with the patient relating a prior history of elevated blood pressure. Ms. Crawford was noted as being morbidly obese. The physical examination on that date reflected that range of motion of the neck was normal. There was discomfort on palpation of the upper and lower back muscles, but range of motion was noted to be "fine." Dr. Thomas prescribed a muscle relaxer and anti-inflammatory.

Ms. Crawford returned to Dr. Thomas's office on January 27, 2015 for a routine physical. Dr. Thomas's records from that date indicate that Ms. Crawford complained of chronic back pain and that she was again prescribed a muscle relaxer and anti-inflammatory. She was also counseled on controlling her blood pressure and advised to start a low calorie diet. Examination of the spine revealed normal gait and posture; no spinal deformity; and symmetry of spinal muscles, without tenderness, decreased range of motion, or muscular spasm. On February 24, 2015, Ms. Crawford returned to Dr. Thomas's office to update her vaccinations, and the medical record shows no mention of neck or back pain or the accident.

Ms. Crawford next sought treatment for her back pain on April 2, 2015, more than two months after her January 27, 2015 visit with Dr. Thomas. She saw Dr. Joseph Turnipseed, a specialist in interventional pain management. Ms. Crawford's chief complaint was back pain; she indicated that her neck pain following the December 15, 2014 accident had resolved over time. Dr. Turnipseed adjusted her medications and referred her to Dr. Thomas Rathmann, chiropractor, for therapy.

Ms. Crawford's initial consultation with Dr. Rathmann was on April 7, 2015. At this initial visit, Ms. Crawford advised Dr. Rathmann that she had been involved in a motor vehicle collision on December 15, 2014. She complained of neck, mid-back, lower back, and right knee pain. His diagnosis was cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and knee strain/sprain. Dr. Rathmann ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of her neck and back. Dr. Rathmann conservatively treated Ms. Crawford for approximately two months - from April 7, 2015 through May 26, 2015. He saw improvement during that time, especially to her thoracic spine. Her right knee pain resolved and her range of movement improved. According to Dr. Rathmann, while decreased, Ms. Crawford had some palpable neck and back tenderness the last time he treated her.

Ms. Crawford returned to Dr. Turnipseed on May 28, 2015. He had access to the results of the MRI scans of Ms. Crawford's neck and back. The reports reflected a midline disc herniation superimposed on disc bulging at C5-C6 with a midline anterior fissure, and disc bulging at C3-C4 and C4-C5 with no stenosis. The lumbar results reflected mild disc bulging at L4-L5 with normal facet joints and no stenosis, and disc bulging at L5-S1 with early facet arthropathy, but no stenosis present. Dr. Turnipseed recommended a lumbar epidural steroid injection ("L-ESI"). Ms. Crawford underwent her first L-ESI on June 18, 2015, and received a...

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