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Donetta v. Kimberly A. Baumann

November 28, 2012

DONETTA I. KAFADER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KIMBERLY A. BAUMANN,
DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Randy J. Stoker, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melanson, Judge

2012 Opinion No. 62

) Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Order denying motion for additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial, reversed and remanded.

Donetta I. Kafader appeals from the district court's order denying her motion for additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial following a jury verdict in her favor. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Kafader brought this action seeking damages for personal injuries arising from a car collision with Kimberly A. Baumann. On October 28, 2008, Kafader stopped her pickup at a crosswalk for a pedestrian. While driving approximately 10-15 mph, Baumann crashed her sedan into the rear end of Kafader's pickup. Baumann admitted liability for negligence and the case went to trial regarding the issue of damages.

At trial, Kafader acknowledged a pre-existing lower back injury from an employment accident in the late 1970s. Kafader also testified that, in March 2008, she injured her ankle in a grocery store parking lot. Kafader presented a medical bill summary claiming $15,475.72 in damages for treatment of injuries allegedly caused by the collision. Experts testified for both parties regarding Kafader's pre-existing injuries, their effect on her condition following the collision, and the extent to which the collision caused her current symptoms. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Kafader, awarding her $2,787.50 in economic damages and $15,000 in non-economic damages. Kafader moved the district court for an additur of an unspecific amount*fn1 or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The district court denied this motion. Kafader appeals.

II. ANALYSIS

On appeal, we review a trial court's decision to grant or deny a new trial for an abuse of discretion, and we will not disturb that decision absent a manifest abuse of this discretion. Lanham v. Idaho Power Co., 130 Idaho 486, 497-98, 943 P.2d 912, 923-24 (1997); Burggraf v. Chaffin, 121 Idaho 171, 173, 823 P.2d 775, 777 (1991). The test for determining whether the trial court has abused its discretion consists of three inquiries: (1) whether the court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) whether the court acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion and consistently with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (3) whether the court reached its decision through an exercise of reason. Lanham, 130 Idaho at 498, 943 P.2d at 924. When reviewing the trial court's decision, we consider the grounds upon which the lower court based its decision to grant or deny the motion. Id. In reviewing the grant or denial of a motion for a new trial, "we primarily focus upon the process used by the trial judge in reaching his or her decision, not upon the result of that decision." Hudelson v. Delta Int'l Mach. Corp., 142 Idaho 244, 248, 127 P.3d 147, 151 (2005); see also Keyser v. Garner, 129 Idaho 112, 119, 922 P.2d 409, 416 (Ct. App. 1996) (appellate court is constrained to focus on the process the trial court used to reach its decision and must refrain from engaging in result-oriented appellate review of the trial court's discretionary decision).

A. Damages Awarded Under Influence of Passion or Prejudice

Kafader first argues that the district court erred by denying her request for a new trial under I.R.C.P. 59(a)(5). That rule authorizes the trial court to grant a new trial where the jury's award of damages was excessive or inadequate, appearing to have been given under the influence of passion or prejudice. The district court may conditionally grant a new trial subject to an additur. I.R.C.P. 59.1. The proper focus for a trial court when addressing a motion for a new trial based upon inadequate or excessive damages was described by the Idaho Supreme Court in Dinneen v. Finch, 100 Idaho 620, 625-26, 603 P.2d 575, 580-81 (1979):

Where a motion for a new trial is premised on inadequate or excessive damages, the trial court must weigh the evidence and then compare the jury's award to what he would have given had there been no jury. If the disparity is so great that it appears to the trial court that the award was given under the influence of passion or prejudice, the verdict ought not stand. It need not be proven that there was in fact passion or prejudice nor is it necessary to point to such in the record. The appearance of such is sufficient.

It is undisputed that the district court correctly perceived this issue as one of discretion, and we therefore proceed to address whether the district court acted in ...


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