Jones v. Bravata

Decision Date09 May 2019
Docket Number2018 CA 0837
Citation280 So.3d 226
Parties Ricki JONES and Charles Jones v. Frank BRAVATA, Jr. and The City of Baton Rouge
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

Todd C. Comeaux, Peyton P. Murphy, John W. Perry, Jr., Daniel J. Balhoff, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant, Ricki Jones

Arlene C. Edwards, A. Gregory Rome, Gwendolyn K. Brown, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees, Frank Bravata, Jr. and the City, of Baton Rouge



In this personal injury case, the plaintiff appeals a judgment rendered in accordance with a jury verdict, challenging the adequacy of the jury's awards for general and special damages. For the following reasons, we affirm.


This suit arises out of a car accident that occurred on March 5, 2010. The plaintiff, Ricki Jones, was driving, and her husband, Charles Jones, was a passenger. Mr. and Ms. Jones were stopped at a red light at the intersection of Choctaw Drive and Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when they were rear-ended by defendant, Frank Bravata, Jr.

Mr. and Ms. Jones subsequently filed suit for personal injuries against Mr. Bravata and his employer, the City of Baton Rouge. Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that Mr. Bravata was in the course and scope of his employment with the City of Baton Rouge when the accident occurred and that the defendants were 100% liable for causing the accident. Mr. Jones dismissed his claims against the defendants shortly before trial.

A jury trial was conducted on August 28-31, 2017, where the chief issues were medical causation of Ms. Jones's alleged neck and back injuries, the extent of her injuries, and damages. At the close of evidence, the trial court granted Ms. Jones's motion for directed verdict on the issue of causation, finding that Mr. Bravata's negligence was the legal cause of Ms. Jones's injuries. See LSA-C.C.P. art. 1810. The case was then submitted to the jury for a determination of the amount of general and special damages to be awarded to Ms. Jones. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Jones and awarded the following damages:

  Physical Pain and Suffering, Past & Future     $10,000
                  Mental Suffering and Distress, Past & Future   $0
                  Loss of Enjoyment of Life                      $5,000
                  Past Medical Expenses                          $150,000
                  Future Medical Expenses                        $35,000
                  TOTAL DAMAGES:                                 $200,000

The trial court signed a judgment in conformity with the jury's verdict on December 26, 2017. From this judgment, Ms. Jones filed the instant appeal. In assignment of error one, Ms. Jones contends that the trial court erred in charging the jury on force-of-impact. In assignments of error two, three, and four, Ms. Jones alleges that the jury erred in failing to award adequate damages for past medical expenses, future medical expenses, and general damages, respectively.


The record establishes that Ms. Jones did not require medical attention at the scene of the accident; however, she testified that later that afternoon she developed a headache and began experiencing pain throughout her body, particularly in her neck, the back of her head, her mid and low back, and her left leg. She also had pain and bruising across her chest caused by the seat belt. Her pain continued to increase overnight and the following day. Ms. Jones saw Dr. Ronald Sylvest, an orthopedist, five days post-accident with complaints of neck, back, and chest pain. Dr. Sylvest prescribed physical therapy, which Ms. Jones attended for three to four months. He also prescribed medications. Although Ms. Jones's pain levels fluctuated, her symptoms persisted.

Over the next seven-and-a-half years, Ms. Jones treated with several neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons in Baton Rouge as well as with the Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Florida. During this time, Ms. Jones received conservative treatment, had numerous cervical (neck) and lumbar (low back) MRIs, and underwent five relatively non-invasive surgical procedures to address her neck and back complaints. Ms. Jones opted to have these procedures performed in lieu of a lumbar fusion surgery recommended by Dr. Kelly Scrantz, the orthopedic surgeon who treated Ms. Jones in late 2010 and early 2011.


Jury Instruction Concerning Force-of-impact

In this assignment of error, Ms. Jones contends that the trial court erred in charging the jury on force-of-impact. The challenged jury instruction provided:

While the force of a collision may be considered in determining whether a person was injured by an accident and the extent of the injuries sustained, it should not be the only factor to consider in making such a determination. Even though the force of impact may be slight, it does not preclude an award of damages. However, in determining causation, you may consider the minimal nature of the accident.

Ms. Jones objected to this instruction on the basis that no evidence was presented to establish that the accident was a minimal impact accident. The trial court disagreed and concluded that the instruction was appropriate because "there is evidence upon which the jury could decide that this was, in fact, a minimal impact accident and use that in their determination..." On appeal, Ms. Jones does not allege that the instruction was legally incorrect but, instead, asserts that the trial court "included an extraneous force-of-impact instruction, thereby injecting an issue that the evidence did not support."

Trial courts are given broad discretion in formulating jury instructions, and a trial court judgment should not be reversed so long as the charge correctly states the substance of the law. Adams v. Rhodia, Inc., 07-2110 (La. 5/21/08), 983 So.2d 798, 804.1 An appellate court must exercise great restraint before it reverses a jury verdict because of erroneous jury instructions. Adams, 983 So.2d at 804. The manifest error standard for appellate review may not be ignored unless the jury charges were so incorrect or so inadequate as to preclude the jury from reaching a verdict based on the law and facts. Adams, 983 So.2d at 805. In the assessment of an alleged erroneous jury instruction, it is the duty of the reviewing court to assess such impropriety in light of the entire jury charge to determine if the charges adequately provide the correct principles of law as applied to the issues framed in the pleadings and the evidence and whether the charges adequately guided the jury in its deliberation. Ultimately, the determinative question is whether the jury instructions misled the jury to the extent that it was prevented from dispensing justice. Adams, 983 So.2d at 804.

Ms. Jones correctly points out that no witness specifically testified that this accident was too minor to have caused her alleged injuries. However, as the defendants note and the trial court found, there was evidence in the record upon which the jury could have based their conclusion that this was a minimal impact accident. Photographs introduced into evidence show negligible damage to the rear bumper of Ms. Jones's Toyota Sequoia (SUV) and damage to the front bumper of Mr. Bravata's pick-up truck caused by the Sequoia's trailer hitch. The parties also gave varying descriptions of the accident. Mr. and Ms. Jones described the impact as a "BAM!" Ms. Jones testified that she was "whipped around" and "dazed" after being hit and had a bruise across her chest caused by the seat belt. Conversely, Mr. Bravata described the collision as a "bump." According to his testimony, the accident occurred in stop-and-go traffic. The light turned green, and the vehicle in front of him (Ms. Jones) stopped and he "bumped them in the back." He was uncertain of his speed just before impact but testified, "I was still driving with my foot on the brake."

In granting a directed verdict in favor of Ms. Jones as to causation, the trial court determined only that Ms. Jones's injuries were, at least in part , caused by the accident. The jury was responsible for determining the extent of Ms. Jones's injuries and the amount of damages which would adequately compensate Ms. Jones for those injuries. This court has recognized that it is proper for the trier of fact to consider the minimal nature of an accident in order to determine the extent of the plaintiff's injuries. Boudreaux v. Mid-Continent Casualty, 09-1379 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/7/10), 2010 WL 1838560, *4 (unpublished), writ denied. 10-1622 (La. 10/8/10), 46 So.3d 1270. See also Neoland v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 12-0280 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/2/12), 2012 WL 5385215, *2 (unpublished). Force-of-impact evidence and testimony may be relevant to the jury's credibility determinations regarding the plaintiff's version of how severe the impact was, how she was allegedly injured, and the extent of her injuries. Boudreaux, 2010 WL 1838560,*4.

After reviewing the jury instructions as a whole and considering the evidence in the record and the issues to be resolved by the jury, we find that the trial court did not abuse its broad discretion in including the challenged jury instruction. This assignment of error lacks merit.


General and Special Damages

In the remaining assignments of error, Ms. Jones challenges the adequacy of the jury's awards for general and special damages.

Standard of Review

The plaintiff in a negligence action bears the burden of proving every element of her case, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence. Gaspard v. Safeway Ins. Co., 14-1676 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/5/15), 174 So.3d 692, 694, writ denied. 15-1588 (La. 10/23/15), 184 So.3d 18.

In reviewing an award of damages, the initial inquiry is whether the award for the particular injuries and their...

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