TORTS – MVA; “the” vs. “a” substantial factor in causation not substantial error; zero pain and suffering affirmed; no negligence per se against coal company: Trent v. Teco Coal Corporation (COA 5/22/09; 8/21/09 ordered published)

Trent v. Teco Coal Corporation
2008-CA-000486 5/22/2009 2009 WL 1424031 Ordered Pub 8/21/09

Opinion by Judge Clayton; Judges Moore and Stumbo concurred.

The Court affirmed a judgment of the circuit court entered subsequent to a jury verdict apportioning fault between the parties on appellant’s claim related to an automobile accident. The jury apportioned 50 percent liability to appellant, 50 percent to the driver of the bus that rear ended appellant after she stopped at a yellow traffic light and zero percent liability to the appellee coal company that appellant claimed left dust and debris to accumulate on the stretch of road where the accident happened. The jury awarded no damages to appellant. The Court first held that appellant properly preserved her objections to the jury instructions by submitting jury instructions and by participating in extensive discussion regarding the jury instructions. The Court then held that the jury instructions were not confusing and did not erroneously refer to a non-party to the action. The use of the phrase “the substantial factor” rather than “a substantial factor” was not so substantial as to cause prejudice and appellant failed to provide any evidence that the jury was prejudiced or would have decided the case differently. Further, the instructions were not erroneous and correctly stated the law as to the duty of care of the individuals. The Court then held that appellant was not entitled to an instruction on negligence per se as to the coal company’s negligence when she failed to prove that the coal company violated any regulation. The Court next held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion for a new trial with respect to the issue of damages. Although conflicting, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that appellant did not sustain a compensable injury.

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