TORTS – Punitive damages, impeachment by employment of witness, pain and sufferering prior to death, voir dire, juror signing verdict: Fuel Transport, Inc. v. Gibson (COA 9/25/2009)

Fuel Transport, Inc. v. Gibson
2008-CA-000969 9/25/09 2009 WL 3047578 Rehearing pending

Opinion by Judge Clayton; Judge Thompson and Senior Judge Lambert concurred. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part a judgment of the circuit court entered subsequent to a jury verdict in favor of an estate in a wrongful death case awarding compensatory and punitive damages.

The Court first held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion for a new trial based on a claim of juror misconduct. During voir dire, appellants failed to ask a proper question to elicit a response they complained was prejudicially omitted by the juror. Further, the juror did not sign the verdict form awarding compensatory damages. The Court next held that, although appellant failed to exercise reasonable care in failing to fix the coal truck that caused the accident, the failure did not rise to the level of wanton or reckless disregard for others so as to prove the gross negligence necessary for an award of punitive damages. Therefore, the trial court erred in overruling appellant’s motion for a directed verdict on the issues of punitive damages. The Court next held that the trial court properly admitted an affidavit regarding the ownership of the coal truck and the employment of the driver, as it affected the credibility of a key witness. The Court next held that appellants waived the right to challenge the award for pain and suffering when they failed to object to the $2 million limit on possible recovery. Even so, the award was supported by evidence that the deceased had intervals of consciousness until her death. The court then held that appellants’ failure to object to jury instruction until immediately prior to the reading of the instructions to the jury, and failure to request an instruction limitation for “conscious” pain and suffering, waived the issue. The Court finally held that the trial court properly denied appellants’ requests for change of venue.

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