Zimmer v. Travelers Ins. Co.

Decision Date20 November 2007
Docket NumberNo. 4:04-cv-00542.,4:04-cv-00542.
Citation521 F.Supp.2d 910
PartiesKris A. ZIMMER, Plaintiff, v. The TRAVELERS INSURANCE CO.; St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc.; Constitution State Services, LLC; The Continental Insurance Co. a/k/a CNA; and Wells Fargo & Company, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Christopher A. Kragnes, Kragnes Tingle & Koenig PC, Jeffrey S. Carter, Carter Law Office PC, Des Moines, IA, Bruce H. Stoltze, Eric M. Updegraff, Brick Gentry Bowers Swartz Stoltze & Levis PC, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

William Thomas Barker, Scott C. Johnson, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, Chicago, IL, CeCelia Ibson Wagner, Laurie Jo Wiedenhoff, Smith, Schneider, Stiles & Serangeli, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL OR REMITTITUR, AND MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT

ROBERT W. PRATT, Chief Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' "Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion for New Trial or Remittitur, and Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment," filed March 29, 2007. Clerk's No. 193. Defendants filed a Brief in support of the Motion on May 31, 2007 (Clerk's No. 203) and Plaintiff filed a resistance to the Motion on July 2, 2007. Clerk's No. 215. Plaintiff filed a Brief in support of his resistance to Defendants' Motion on July 6, 2007. Clerk's No. 218, Defendants then filed an Amended Brief in support of the motion. Clerk's No. 224. Defendants filed a Reply on August 8, 2007. Clerk's No. 229. The matter is fully submitted.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Kris Zimmer ("Plaintiff") filed the present action on June 22, 2004, in the Iowa District Court in and for Polk County, Iowa. Travelers Insurance Company and Constitution State Services removed the matter to federal court on October 5, 2004, on the basis that all parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff filed his First Restated Complaint and Jury Demand on October 8, 2004, alleging that during his employment with Norwest Financial, n/k/a Wells Fargo, in June 1999, he sustained an injury properly compensable under Iowa workers' compensation law. Plaintiff asserted that Defendants improperly denied his workers' compensation claim and that such denial constitutes bad faith under Iowa Code Chapter 85. Trial was held in the case from February 27, 2007 to March 6, 2007, and the Jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff. Clerk's No. 181. The jury found that Defendants acted in bad faith in the handling of Plaintiff's workers' compensation claim and that the Defendants' bad faith was a proximate cause of damages to the Plaintiff. The jury found the following items of damages:

1. $571,529 for past lost wages or earnings

2. $1,515,924 for loss of future earning capacity (present value)

3. $500,000 for past loss of function of body or mind

4. $3,000,000 for future loss of function of body or mind (present value)

5. $1,500,000 for past emotional distress

6. $3,000,000 for future emotional distress (present value).

Id. The jury further found by the greater weight of the evidence that the individual responsible for the bad faith were employees or agents of both St. Paul Travelers Companies d/b/a The Travelers Insurance Company ("Travelers") and of The Continental Insurance Company a/k/a CNA ("CNA") at the time of the bad faith conduct. Id. It was conceded throughout the proceedings that the individuals purportedly responsible for the bad faith conduct were employees of Constitution State Services ("CSS").

Following the reading of the Jury's verdict on March 6, 2007, the Court commenced a punitive damages phase of the trial. On the same date, the Jury found that each of the three Defendants, CSS, Travelers, and CNA (collectively "Defendants"), directed their conduct directly at the Plaintiff and awarded Plaintiff $1,000,000 in punitive damages against each of the three Defendants, for a total punitive damages award of $3,000,000.

Defendants now argue numerous errors in the Court's evidentiary rulings, jury instructions, and in the Jury's verdicts. The Court will address each argument in turn.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
A. Events through August 3, 1999

The facts presented at trial were essentially the same as those presented by the parties in the Court's prior ruling on the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. The Court incorporates those facts by reference, but summarizes the relevant facts here. Plaintiff was born March 6, 1960. In 1988, Plaintiff had a decompression laminectomy and fusion for a work-related injury he sustained while employed by Allen Test Products. There were complications during the surgery, resulting in partial damage to Plaintiff's S1 nerve root and an impairment of 25% was assigned Plaintiff's physical impairment from the operation.

On July 15, 1996, Plaintiff commenced employment installing computers with Norwest Financial, n/k/a Wells Fargo (hereinafter "Wells Fargo"). He continued to experience low back pain and received treatment for his back problems, and for stress-related symptoms,1 from Dr. Carol Horner, his primary physician. Beginning in February 1999, Dr. Horner referred Plaintiff to a series of doctors for treatment of his back pain. These doctors included Dr. McGuire, Dr. Igram, Dr. Stein, Dr. Toriello, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Koithan.

On June 1, 1999, Plaintiff claims he felt a rip in his back when he helped a consultant pick up papers that had been dropped in the street and were being blown by the wind. Plaintiff informed his supervisor, Dennis Woolums, and eventually was sent home from work. On June 2, 1999, Plaintiff presented at Des Moines General Hospital ("DMGH") for treatment. According to the emergency room report, Plaintiff was seen at DMGH by Dr. Javaid Abbasi. Trial Ex. J-9. The report lists Plaintiffs "Chief Complaint" as a one-day history of "Mingling sensations on the three fingers of the left hand with discoloration on those fingers." Id. Dr. Abbasi noted that Plaintiff "[i]s remarkable for back problems" and that he previously had back surgery. Id. Under "Review of Systems," Dr. Abbasi states: "[Plaintiff] is remarkable for tingling and bluish discoloration of the three fingers of his left hand since yesterday. The patient denied any falls or injury.... He does complain of back pain, which is chronic in nature." Id. Dr. Abbasi concluded with an impression of "possible vasculitis" and notified Dr. Horner, who "present[ed] to the emergency room to assume care of the patient." Id. Dr. Horner wrote a note2 excusing Plaintiff from work "from 6/1/99 until released due to medical illness." Trial Ex. J-22.

On June 3, 1999, Plaintiff went to see Dr. Rettenmaier, apparently on referral from Dr. Horner. Dr. Rettenmaier's report states:

This 39-year old white male presents for evaluation basically for a variety of pain issues, primarily left sided leg greater than arm, as well as some recent vague discoloration changes in his hands. He dates the onset of his problems to 1988. He apparently had an injury and developed what sounds to be radicular symptoms. ... He talks about basically having chronic numbness and tingling down his left leg on the posterior aspect all the way down into the foot. He also talks about some off and on pain. Interestingly, over time, his back pain basically improved significantly.... About 2 ½ years ago, he started developing some other pain issues. He apparently started having some pains that started in the left side of his lower back and chest and moved up into his arm. He talks about pains that radiate up his arm up into the left side of his face and neck. He apparently had workup at that time. He ended up being treated for anxiety issues. It sounds like he got better control of that. Then since January of this year, he has had progressive worsening.... He talks about low back pain that has been unmanageable. In the past, it has always been manage[able], but has subsequently been unmanageable.... Tuesday around 2 p.m., he apparently missed his Xanax, an hour late. He developed the sudden onset of discoloration in his left hand.... He also has been having a lot of anxiety issues. This apparently has been a significant problem for several years. About 2½ years ago, he apparently had stress at work and dropped 35 pounds in a quick period of time.... He admits to a lot of work stress. He readily admits to anxiety issues.... He really does not describe work depressive symptoms.... The physical exam today revealed ... he appeared quite anxious. He had great difficulty bearing weight on his left leg. He was constantly moving about and fidgeting in the chair. He did appear to move to the right side to take weight off his left side. He obviously had difficulty getting up to the exam table. I had to help him. He hobbles on his left leg. He has difficulty weight bearing from what presumed to be his pain.... He has no classic findings of full blown dystrophy in the sense of swollen, edematous phase hands and touch-me-not type symptoms.... He could not stand on his tiptoes. How much was pain and giveaway weakness I could not tell. He had somewhat of a forward hunched appearance....

Impressions: Chronic pain syndrome. For the most part, I think this is going to be the primary underlying diagnosis. As you are aware, chronic pain is basically a diagnosis of exclusion. He has so many symptoms that it is difficult to sort through .... One wonders whether he has an element of dystrophy problems as well.... Given the variable nature of his symptoms and the fact that they are somewhat unusual, I did suggest that it would certainly be reasonable to pursue studies such as a three phase bone scan and EMG and nerve conduction velocities of his left arm and left leg....

Recommendations: For the most...

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