Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. v. Troutman Oil Co., Inc.

Decision Date03 March 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-1084,96-1084
Citation327 Ark. 448,938 S.W.2d 565
PartiesWOODLINE MOTOR FREIGHT, INC., Appellant, v. TROUTMAN OIL COMPANY, INC. and Jerry Crosland, d/b/a Jerry's One Stop, Appellees.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

James C. Baker, Jr., Little Rock, for Appellant.

Scott M. Strauss, G. Spence Fricke, Little Rock, Larry Cook, Cabot, for Appellee/Troutman Oil Company, Inc.

Phillip A. Raley, Pine Bluff, for Appellee/Jerry Crosland d/b/a Jerry's One Stop.

ARNOLD, Chief Justice.

The sole issue presented in this negligence case is whether the trial court erred in awarding prejudgment interest on the property damages awarded to appellees Troutman Oil Company, Inc., and Jerry Crosland, d/b/a Jerry's One Stop. The resolution of this issue requires us to examine and clarify the law on prejudgment interest in Arkansas. After a thorough review of the history of our jurisprudence on this subject, we hold that the trial court erred in awarding prejudgment interest where the appellees' claims were neither liquidated nor ascertainable by fixed standards. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

The facts in this case are undisputed. On March 11, 1992, Lattermore Belcher was driving his automobile near the intersection of Seventh and Cypress Streets in North Little Rock when he collided with a tractor-trailer driven by William Moore, an employee of appellant Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. Due to the impact of the collision, Moore lost control of his rig and crashed into a convenience store and gas station owned by Troutman Oil and leased by Crosland. The building and its contents were destroyed. Troutman and Crosland sued Belcher and Woodline for negligence. Troutman claimed $202,000.00 in property damage and $175,500.00 in lost profits, while Crosland claimed $31,426.05 in property damage and $150,000.00 in lost profits. At trial, Belcher was found to be 80 percent at fault and Woodline 20 percent at fault. The jury returned a special verdict awarding Troutman $100,000.00 for property damage and $15,000.00 for lost profits, and Crosland $31,426.05 for property damage and $24,000.00 for lost profits.

Following a hearing on the issue of prejudgment interest, the trial court entered judgment February 20, 1996, awarding prejudgment interest on the property damage at the rate of six percent per annum. As a result, Troutman was awarded an additional $23,000.00, and Crosland an additional $7,232.30. On appeal, Woodline argues that the prejudgment interest should not have been allowed because (1) the underlying case is a tort case; (2) the amount of damages was not immediately ascertainable at the time of loss; and (3) the award constitutes a double recovery.

We cannot deny that the issue of prejudgment interest has been a confusing area in our jurisprudence. See Red Lobster Inns, Etc. v. Lawyer Title Ins., 656 F.2d 381 (8th Cir.1981). Indeed, like other courts, we have struggled with this subject over the years. In our very early cases, we followed the rule that, if the damaged or destroyed property had a market value, or other definite standards of determining the value, at the time of loss, damage or destruction, prejudgment interest was allowable. Crow v. State, 23 Ark. 684 (1861); Kelly v. McDonald, 39 Ark. 387 (1882); and St. Louis I.M. & S. Ry. v. Biggs, 50 Ark. 169, 6 S.W. 724 (1888).

In 1961, we announced the rule that prejudgment interest was not allowable in tort actions. See Southern Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co. v. Hardin, 233 Ark. 1011, 351 S.W.2d 153 (1961). We followed that rule in Members Mutual Ins. Co. v. Blissett, 254 Ark. 211, 492 S.W.2d 429 (1973). Both Hardin and Blissett involved personal injury and property damage claims arising from automobile accidents. However, in 1979, we returned to the former rule, allowing prejudgment interest for damage to "knee-high" soybeans totally destroyed by heavy rains within a 48-hour period. See Dickerson Construction Co. Inc. v. Dozier, 266 Ark. 345, 584 S.W.2d 36 (1979). The damage in Dozier resulted from the defendants having wrongfully dammed a drainage ditch.

In Lovell v. Marianna Federal Savings and Loan Ass'n, 267 Ark. 164, 589 S.W.2d 577, 578 (1979), we discussed the Hardin, Blissett, and Dozier cases, and determined that Dozier followed the more logical rule. We said that the test in prejudgment-interest cases is whether there is a method of determination of the value of the property at the time of the injury, and, if such method exists, prejudgment interest should be allowed. Id. at 166, 589 S.W.2d 577. We further explained that, if the damages are not by their nature capable of exact determination, both in time and amount, prejudgment interest is not an item of recovery. Id. at 167, 589 S.W.2d 577 (emphasis added). The issue in Lovell was whether prejudgment interest should have been awarded on three certificates of deposit. Though litigation was required to determine who owned the certificates, we held that, because the certificates had an exact value on the date that Marianna Federal refused to pay them over to Lovell, prejudgment interest should have been awarded.

Since Lovell, we have emphasized the requirement that damages be capable of exact determination both in time and amount. See e.g. City of Fayetteville v. Stanberry, 305 Ark. 210, 807 S.W.2d 26 (1991); citing Hopper v. Denham, 281 Ark. 84, 90, 661 S.W.2d 379 (1983) (prejudgment interest is allowed where "a method exists for fixing an exact value on the cause of action at the time of the occurrence of the event which gives rise to the cause of action"); Stein v. Lukas, 308 Ark. 74, 823 S.W.2d 832 (1992)("prejudgment interest is not recoverable where damages are inexact and uncertain"). However, in Wheeler Motor Co. v. Roth, 315 Ark. 318, 867 S.W.2d 446 (1993), our most recent case on the subject, we referred back to the underlying cause of action as the basis to decide whether prejudgment interest should be awarded. In that case, Roth purchased a 1988 Volkswagen from Wheeler Motor Company. Wheeler Motor told Roth, prior to the sale, that the vehicle was new and only had a crack in the paint. Over a twenty-three month period, Roth experienced many mechanical problems with the car. There was evidence that, prior to Roth's purchase, the car had been damaged. Roth sued Wheeler Motor for deceit, and also revoked acceptance. A jury awarded Roth $8,000.00 in damages for rightful revocation, and $10,000 in punitive damages. Wheeler Motor appealed, and Roth cross-appealed the trial court's denial of prejudgment interest. In upholding the denial of prejudgment interest, we reasoned as follows:

The trial judge denied prejudgment interest based upon a determination that the damages were inexact and uncertain at the time of the loss. Damages were not ascertainable until the jury rendered its special verdict...

To continue reading

Request your trial
37 cases
  • Allapattah Services, Inc. v. Exxon Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • August 7, 2001
    ...to compute the amount of claim with exactness, without reliance upon opinion or discretion); Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. v. Troutman Oil Co., Inc., 327 Ark. 448, 938 S.W.2d 565, 568 (1997) (prejudgment interest where the amount of damages is liquidated as a dollar sum, or if damages are de......
  • In re Dequeen General Hosp., Bankruptcy No. 4:04-bk-75927M.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Western District of Arkansas
    • October 20, 2009
    ...Inc. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 353 Ark. 201, 223-24, 114 S.W.3d 189, 203 (2003) (citing Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. v. Troutman Oil Co., 327 Ark. 448, 453, 938 S.W.2d 565, 568 (1997)). Before prejudgment interest is awarded, the amount of damages must be capable of exact determination ......
  • Ray & Sons Masonry v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar.
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • May 15, 2003
    ...data that makes it possible to compute the amount without reliance on opinion or discretion. Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. v. Troutman Oil Co., 327 Ark. 448, 938 S.W.2d 565 (1997). Where prejudgment interest may be collected at all, the injured party is always entitled to it as a matter of l......
  • Ozarks Unlimited Resources Co-op., Inc. v. Daniels
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • May 14, 1998
    ...data that makes it possible to compute the amount without reliance on opinion or discretion. Woodline Motor Freight, Inc. v. Troutman Oil Co., 327 Ark. 448, 938 S.W.2d 565 (1997). Where prejudgment interest may be collected at all, the injured party is always entitled to it as a matter of l......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT