Lascano v. Vowell

Decision Date05 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94CA1268,94CA1268
Citation940 P.2d 977
PartiesRebecca N. LASCANO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Gloria M. VOWELL, Defendant-Appellee. . I
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

Bragg & Baker, P.C., Douglas E. Bragg, Christopher W. Jeffress, Denver, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Creamer and Seaman, P.C., Thomas J. Seaman, Denver, for Defendant-Appellee.

Opinion by Judge METZGER.

In this negligence action arising out of an automobile accident, plaintiff, Rebecca N. Lascano, appeals the portion of the judgment entered on a jury verdict against defendant, Gloria M. Vowell, which awarded her non-economic damages of $4,500. We reverse and remand for a new trial on the issue of damages.

I.

Plaintiff first contends that the trial court abused its discretion in its timing in admitting into evidence a surveillance movie filmed by defendant shortly before trial. We agree.

Effective January 1995, C.R.C.P. 16(a) was repealed and re-adopted with substantial modifications. Because the trial in this case occurred before that time, the prior version of this rule (C.R.C.P. 16 (repealed)) governs this action.

At all times pertinent to this dispute, C.R.C.P. 16(a) (repealed) required that parties to a civil action must file disclosure certificates at least 90 days before trial. In these certificates, each party was required to include a description, attached copy, or photograph of any exhibit that he or she might offer at trial.

Litigants were permitted to supplement their disclosure certificates up to 80 days before trial to include information concerning exhibits or witnesses not known to them at the time the disclosure certificate was filed. C.R.C.P. 16(b) (repealed); see Consolidated Hardwoods, Inc. v. Alexander Concrete Construction, Inc., 811 P.2d 440 (Colo.App.1991).

Moreover, under C.R.C.P. 16(c) (repealed), parties were bound by the information provided in their disclosure certificates. The trial court could allow the endorsement of exhibits later than 80 days before trial only as needed "to prevent manifest injustice." In the event a party failed to comply with the requirements of this rule, the trial court was authorized to impose appropriate sanctions. See J.P. v. District Court, 873 P.2d 745 (Colo.1994).

The purpose for requiring pretrial disclosure of witnesses and exhibits is to prevent undue surprise and to allow all parties an opportunity for adequate preparation. Thus, it was within the trial court's discretion to determine whether a violation of C.R.C.P. 16 (repealed) required the imposition of sanctions and, if so, the nature of the sanction to be imposed. Four Strong Winds, Inc. v. Lyngholm, 826 P.2d 414 (Colo.App.1992).

C.R.C.P. 16 (repealed) was to be construed liberally so as not to deny a party the reasonable opportunity to present relevant evidence. However, in liberally construing this rule, the trial court had an obligation not to allow other parties to be prejudiced by the supplementation of witnesses or endorsements. Thus, a party's ability to supplement a disclosure certificate was not boundless. J.P. v. District Court, supra; see also Consolidated Hardwoods, Inc. v. Alexander Concrete Construction Inc., supra.

Likewise, a trial court's discretion to permit late supplementation was limited, and a trial court abused its discretion if its decision was manifestly arbitrary, unfair, or unreasonable. See People v. Milton, 732 P.2d 1199 (Colo.1987). Thus, the decision of the trial court should be reversed if its efforts to avoid prejudice and delay to one party substantially tipped the balance and thereby unreasonably denied the other party his or her day in court. J.P. v. District Court, supra.

So-called "surveillance movies" demonstrating a personal injury plaintiff's ability to carry on certain activities are discoverable and are subject to production through pretrial procedure. Crist v. Goody, 31 Colo.App. 496, 507 P.2d 478 (1972).

In Crist, the defendant in a personal injury action had filmed a surveillance movie of the plaintiff conducting routine activities. The defendant did not produce the film nor was its existence mentioned before trial. The trial court in its discretion allowed the film to be admitted into evidence and to be shown to the jury. However, a division of this court concluded that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying the plaintiff's motion for a mistrial or a continuance to avoid the effect of undue surprise.

Here, investigators working for defendant's insurer secretly made a surveillance movie of plaintiff on March 30 and April 2, 1994. Thereafter, on April 13, defendant moved to supplement her disclosure certificate and to endorse the movie as an exhibit for trial, which was scheduled to begin on May 2, 1994.

Plaintiff then filed a motion in limine seeking the exclusion of the surveillance movie and the testimony of those who had prepared it, arguing that defendant had sought endorsement too close to the trial date. In this motion, plaintiff expressly stated that, because the case had been pending for an extended time, the trial, scheduled to begin on May 2, 1994, should not be continued.

The trial court heard arguments on plaintiff's motion before trial and intermittently throughout plaintiff's case-in-chief. It was only after defendant was well into the presentation of her case that the trial court finally decided to permit the late endorsement of the surveillance movie and to admit it.

Under these circumstances, we view that ruling to be an abuse of the trial court's discretion.

First, defendant did not tender the movie 80 or more days before trial; thus, it could not have been made part of a supplemental disclosure certificate. See C.R.C.P. 16(b) & (c) (repealed). Moreover, defendant made no showing that the admission of the movie was essential "to prevent manifest injustice" and the trial court did not find that it would be.

Second, the late attempt to endorse the exhibit left plaintiff with few options. On learning of the existence of the movie, plaintiff could have moved for a continuance to permit her to develop a strategy for meeting this evidence. See, e.g., Crist v. Goody, supra; see also J.P. v. District Court, supra. However, in our view, plaintiff was not required to do so. Rather, she was entitled to rely on the requirements of C.R.C.P. 16(c) (repealed) which expressly limited a party's ability to endorse an exhibit less than 80 days before trial unless the circumstances required that the late endorsement be allowed to prevent manifest injustice.

By delaying its ruling on the admission of this exhibit until more than halfway through the trial, the trial court denied plaintiff the ability to prepare any effective method of meeting this evidence. Plaintiff was given the Hobson's choice of referring to the movie during voir dire, her opening statement, and her case-in-chief, possibly waiving any objection to the later admission of the movie, or waiting until the trial court had ruled on the issue of admissibility of the movie, thus preserving her objection but denying her any meaningful opportunity to present contrary evidence.

Third, plaintiff was placed at a significant disadvantage by having to rebut the exhibit without sufficient time to prepare properly.

Finally, the prejudice to plaintiff brought about by the admission of this movie is clear. The five-minute movie showed short images of plaintiff, on separate occasions, moving about without any indication of neck or back pain.

Thus, we view the timing of the admission of this exhibit to be an abuse of discretion. And, considering the effect such an error may have had on the jury's evaluation of the evidence, we conclude that this error requires reversal of the judgment and a new trial on the damages issues.

As guidance for the trial court, on retrial the present version of C.R.C.P. 16 shall be applicable, and if the surveillance movie is again proffered by defendant, its admissibility should be determined in accordance with that rule.

II.

Among issues that may arise on retrial is plaintiff's argument that the trial court erred in instructing the jury regarding the effect of later events, unrelated to the automobile accident, on her injuries. We agree that this issue should be reconsidered on remand.

When an instruction fairly presents the issues and is supported by the evidence, a party is entitled to have it given. Downing v. Overhead Door Corp., 707 P.2d 1027 (Colo.App.1985).

In determining whether jury instructions adequately informed the jury of the applicable legal principles, all of the instructions must be considered as a whole. Vikman v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 889 P.2d 646 (Colo.1995). An instruction that is incomplete or ambiguous may be cured by other instructions. Gorsich v. Double B Trading Co., 893 P.2d 1357 (Colo.App.1994).

Nevertheless, unless cured by the instructions as a whole, it is reversible error for a trial court to give an erroneous instruction. Mile Hi Concrete, Inc. v. Matz, 842 P.2d 198 (Colo.1992).

In general, a plaintiff is entitled to recover the damages which were the natural and probable result of the defendant's negligence. Cope v. Vermeer Sales & Service of Colorado, Inc., 650 P.2d 1307 (Colo.App.1982).

Here, using an instruction modeled after CJI-Civ.3d 6:9 (1988), the trial court instructed the jury:

The plaintiff ... claims damages from the defendant ... for injuries caused by a motor vehicle accident on May 30, 1989. If you find that the defendant's negligence, if any, was a cause of any such injuries, then the plaintiff ... may recover all damages caused by that event. But if you find that the plaintiff was later injured in August of 1989 in a log ride at [an] Amusement Park; in July 1990 when she fell from a stool, and in October 1990 when biting into an apple, which were not caused by any acts or omissions of the defendant, then the plaintiff may not recover any damages caused only by the later accidents....

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    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • June 25, 2009
    ...are not provided in a jury instruction, the jury is presumed to employ the common meaning of the words used. Lascano v. Vowell, 940 P.2d 977, 982 (Colo.App.1996). We first observe that the instructions that were provided adequately apprised the jury of the correct legal standards for defend......
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    ...we perceive no error by the court in instructing the jury on subsequent injury. Contrary to plaintiff's argument, Lascano v. Vowell, 940 P.2d 977 (Colo.App.1996), does not require evidence of permanency. Lascano held the use of the word "aggravated" in a subsequent injury instruction may be......
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