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Reinfeld v. Hutcheson

May 26, 2010

FALYN REINFELD, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
H.L. HUTCHESON, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE WILLIAM J. SRSTKA, JR. Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Severson, Justice

ARGUED MARCH 23, 2010

[¶1.] Falyn Reinfeld (Reinfeld) brought this lawsuit against H.L. Hutcheson (Hutcheson) for negligence in connection with an automobile accident. The trial court granted Reinfeld's motion for a new trial on the basis that the jury's award of damages for past and future medical expenses, but not pain and suffering, was inadequate and insufficient under the evidence presented at trial. Hutcheson appeals. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

[¶2.] On December 9, 2004, Reinfeld and Hutcheson were involved in an automobile accident at the intersection of Dakota Avenue and 26th Street in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Hutcheson stopped at a stop sign on Dakota Avenue, waited to cross 26th Street, and proceeded south through the intersection when another motorist waved him through. Hutcheson's view of eastbound traffic on 26th Street was obstructed by vehicles in the westbound lane. Reinfeld was traveling east on 26th Street. Hutcheson struck Reinfeld's vehicle as Reinfeld entered the intersection. Reinfeld gripped her steering wheel to brace for impact and hit her head on the driver's side window. Neither driver reported any injuries to the officer who responded to the scene of the accident.

[¶3.] Reinfeld began experiencing headaches and pain in her neck and shoulders within hours of the accident. Reinfeld saw Dr. Richard Plummer the day after the accident. Dr. Plummer imposed work and lifting restrictions and prescribed physical therapy and pain medications. An MRI conducted on January 7, 2005, revealed disk bulging at C5-C6 with no significant nerve impingement. Reinfeld's condition failed to improve, and Dr. Plummer referred Reinfeld to Drs. Jerry Blow and Steven Guse. Drs. Blow and Guse treated Reinfeld using pain medications, physical therapy, trigger point injections, and neuromuscular electrical stimulation. On March 30, 2005, Dr. Guse determined that Reinfeld had reached maximum medical improvement. Dr. Guse assigned Reinfeld a 5% permanent whole-person impairment rating and imposed a permanent overhead lifting restriction of no more than 40 pounds. Despite having reached maximum medical improvement, Reinfeld continued to receive medical treatments from Dr. Guse and chiropractic care from Dr. Bruce Johnson.

[¶4.] In September 2007, Reinfeld brought this lawsuit against Hutcheson for negligence in connection with the accident. Prior to trial, Hutcheson admitted that he was negligent, but disputed the cause, nature, and extent of Reinfeld's injuries. The case proceeded to trial to determine causation and damages. By special verdict, the jury found that Hutcheson's negligence was the legal cause of Reinfeld's injuries and awarded Reinfeld $18,791.63 in past medical expenses and $11,054.30 in future chiropractic care expenses. The jury awarded no damages for past disability, future disability, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, lost wages, or lost earning capacity. Reinfeld moved for a new trial on the basis that the jury's award of damages for past and future medical expenses, but not pain and suffering, was inadequate and insufficient under the evidence presented at trial. The trial court granted Reinfeld's motion for a new trial. Hutcheson appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶5.] "If the trial court finds an injustice has been done by the jury's verdict, the remedy lies in granting a new trial." Waldner v. Berglund, 2008 SD 75, ¶11, 754 NW2d 832, 835 (citations omitted). "A motion for a new trial is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court; we will not overturn the court's ruling unless it appears affirmatively from the record [that] there has been an abuse of discretion." Morrison v. Mineral Palace Ltd. P'ship, 1998 SD 33, ¶7, 576 NW2d 869, 870 (citations omitted). "Additionally, this [C]court has consistently stated that more deference is given to the trial court's grant of a new trial than its denial of one." Id. (quoting Tunender v. Minnaert, 1997 SD 62, ¶9, 563 NW2d 849, 851). "This is because orders allowing new trials 'are not conclusive or decisive of any rights or issues. They merely open the way for a reinvestigation of the entire case upon its facts and merits.'" Id. (quoting Jensen v. Miller, 80 SD 384, 389, 124 NW2d 394, 396 (1963)).

ANALYSIS AND DECISION

Appeal #25281

[¶6.] 1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by granting Reinfeld's motion for a new trial.

[¶7.] The trial court relied upon SDCL 15-6-59(a) in granting Reinfeld's motion for a new trial. That statute provides in relevant part:

A new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues for any of the following causes:

...

(5) Excessive or inadequate damages appearing to have been given under the influence ...


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