Superior Court of Pierce County. Superior Court Docket No. 92-2-00558-7. Date Filed In Superior Court: June 3, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Thomas Swayze.
Bridgewater, J., Morgan, J., Turner, J., concur
BRIDGEWATER, J. -- Pamela Palmer appeals from a jury's general verdict in which she was awarded damages equal to the cost of her medical care; Palmer's medical
care resulted from an automobile collision in which she was rear-ended while stopped at an intersection off a freeway exit, although she had the right of way to proceed. We hold that the trial court did not err in failing to grant a new trial based upon an inadequate verdict. We also hold that there was no error in failing to provide the jury with a special verdict form and that Palmer's stopping when she had the right to proceed on the road was substantial evidence supporting the jury's finding of contributory negligence. We affirm.
Palmer exited Interstate-5 in Tacoma in her vehicle and approached a T-intersection where she could turn either left or right. Traffic coming from the left and right -- the top bar of the T -- was required to stop; Palmer was not. Palmer did, however, stop, claiming concern for an automobile that appeared to be moving into the intersection in spite of the stop sign. She was rear-ended by Thomas Jensen. Uncontroverted evidence at trial from her treating physician indicated that all of Palmer's medical treatment presented at trial for her soft tissue injury was related to the accident, was necessary, and the expenses reasonable and consistent with prevailing rates in the Northwest.
The jury returned a general verdict finding Palmer and her son's total damages to be $8,414.89, the exact amount of their medical costs. The jury also found Palmer to be 25 percent contributorily negligent.
"A strong presumption exists in Washington that a jury's determination of the amount of damages to be awarded is valid. 16 David K. DeWolf and Keller W. Allen, Wash. Prac., Tort Law and Practice § 4.44, at 97 (1993). Upon a motion, if the trial court finds the damages awarded by the jury are so inadequate as unmistakably to indicate the amount must have resulted from the jury's passion or prejudice, the trial court may enter an order providing for a new trial unless the adversely affected party consents to an increase of the verdict. RCW 4.76.030;
CR 59(a) (5). The denial of such a motion will not be disturbed absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Cowan v. Jensen, 79 Wash. 2d 844, 847, 490 P.2d 436 (1971). A trial court abuses its discretion when its exercise of discretion is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds. Allard v. First Interstate Bank of Wash., N.A., 112 Wash. 2d 145, 148, 768 P.2d 998, modified, 773 P.2d 420 (1989).
A trial court does not abuse its discretion when it denies a motion for a new trial when the jury's failure to award any general damages seems to have resulted from a failure of proof. Wooldridge v. Woolett, 96 Wash. 2d 659, 668, 638 P.2d 566 (1981). In Wooldridge, a jury failed to award the estate of the decedent any lost earning capacity when the decedent had a spotty work record, and no record of savings. Wooldridge, 96 Wash. 2d at 667-68.*fn1 The court determined on appeal that, "from those factors, it does not appear unreasonable that the jury awarded no general damages." Wooldridge, 96 Wash. 2d at 669. See also Sebers v. Curry, 73 Wash. 2d 358, 438 P.2d 616 (1968) (no award for loss of child's services in wrongful death case where paucity of testimony bearing upon the value of the boy's services); Lipshay v. Barr, 54 Wash. 2d 257, 339 P.2d 471 (1959) (no award for pain and suffering where jury could reasonably infer injury was not as serious as contended and portion of medical expenses and absence from work were unnecessary).
Palmer argues that a jury's award of special damages only is inadequate as a matter of law. The argument is directly in conflict with Wooldridge, Sebers, and Lipshay, which uphold a trial court's decision to deny a new ...