ERRONEOUS DIRECTED VERDICT ON ONE COMPONENT OF DAMAGES RESULTS IN REVERSAL OF ENTIRE DAMAGE AWARD

Gracia v. Davis
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-12-01147-CV (February 13, 2014)

Justices Francis (Opinion), Lang-Miers, and Lewis
Davis sued Gracia for injuries sustained in a traffic collision. Gracia stipulated to liability, and only the amount of damages was tried to a jury. The trial court directed a verdict for $17,400 in past medical expenses—the full amount Davis sought—and submitted the remaining components of damages to the jury, which returned a verdict of $350,000 for past and future pain and mental anguish, past and future loss of earnings, past and future physical impairment, and future medical expenses. The Court of Appeals concluded the directed verdict on past medical expenses was improper because a jury could have reasonably found that some of Davis’s medical expenses were not proximately caused by the collision. The Court went on to decide that the erroneous directed verdict tainted the jury’s verdict, and it therefore reversed the entire damage award and remanded for a new trial. 

Davis received medical treatment for about four months after the collision. He underwent no treatment for the next thirteen months, after which he resumed treatments. During the thirteen-month hiatus, Davis worked in a physically-demanding job at a warehouse, and his doctor’s notes stated that Davis “suffered a re-exacerbation due to his increased activity at his new job.” Davis’s doctor nevertheless testified at trial that all of Davis’s past medical expenses were proximately caused by the car collision. The Court of Appeals concluded that the gap in treatment, along with Davis’s physically-demanding work during that gap, were probative evidence that some of Davis’s past medical expenses were not proximately caused by the collision. Moreover, the jury was free to reject Davis’s doctor’s statement that all the expenses were proximately caused by the collision, even though that statement was not controverted. The directed verdict on this component of damages was therefore erroneous. 

The Court then considered the appropriate remedy for the error. Davis contended a small remittitur for the costs of the second round of treatment would be an appropriate remedy. The Court dismissed that suggestion, noting that “it is well-established that the proper appellate remedy for an error in granting a directed verdict is reversal and remand.” The Court further observed that the amount of past medical expenses awarded by directed verdict was typed into the charge that was given to the jury, and when the trial court read the charge to the jury, it stated that the amount of past medical expenses had “already been determined” to be the full amount Davis requested. The Court concluded the trial court “effectively told the jury that all of Davis’s injuries and medical expenses resulted from the accident. We cannot conclude this error did not impact the jury’s remaining answers to other elements of past and future damages.” The Court therefore reversed the entire damage award and remanded for a new trial on all damages.

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