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Wilson v. Condon

Supreme Court of Maine

December 29, 2016

JAIME WILSON
v.
WILLIAM CONDON

          Argued: November 8, 2016.

          Barry K. Mills, Esq. (orally), Hale & Hamlin, LLC, Ellsworth, for appellant Jaime Wilson.

          David C. King, Esq. (orally), and Jonathan P. Hunter, Esq., Rudman Winchell, Bangor, for appellee William Condon.

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          REPORTER OF DECISIONS.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] Jaime Wilson appeals from a judgment entered in the Superior Court (Washington County, Stokes, J.) in favor of Philip Barnard on his complaint for negligence against William Condon but awarding no damages on Wilsons derivative claim for loss of consortium. Wilson contends that the jurys award of no damages for loss of consortium was manifestly inadequate and internally inconsistent and that the court erred in denying her motion for additur or a new trial on that basis. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury verdict. See Marr v. Shores, 495A.2d 1202, 1206 (Me. 1985). In 2007, husband and wife Philip Barnard and Jaime Wilson moved into an apartment owned by William Condon. On June 15, 2007, a deck attached to the apartment collapsed while Barnard was standing on it, causing him significant injuries. In 2013, Barnard and Wilson filed a complaint against Condon in the Superior Court alleging that Condon had been negligent and seeking damages for Barnards medical expenses, lost earnings, permanent impairment, pain, suffering, and emotional distress, and Wilsons loss of consortium. Barnard and Wilson divorced during the pendency of that lawsuit.

         [¶3] In October of 2015, the court conducted a jury trial. Regarding the loss of consortium claim, the verdict form asked the jury to answer the compound question, "Was William Condon negligent, and was his negligence a cause of injuries to Jaime Wilson?" (Question 3), with a "Yes" or a "No." If the jury answered Question 3 in the affirmative, the verdict form then asked the jury to answer the question, "What are Jaime Wilsons total damages?" (Question 4).

         [¶4] During deliberation, the jury sent the following note to the court: "Your honor, we believe [William] Condon was negligent and Mr. Barnard deserves damages that were the result of Mr. Condons negligence. But we do not believe Jaime Wilson is entitled to damages, in spite of Mr. Condons negligence. How do we answer questions # 3 and # 4 in light of our judgments of the evidence?" In response to the jurys question, and with the agreement of the parties, the court directed the jurors to "focus on question three." In the verdict it announced later that day, the jury awarded $610, 000 to Barnard and answered Question 3 in the affirmative, but entered "0" when asked what were Wilsons total damages in Question 4. The court denied Wilsons subsequent motion for additur or a new trial in which she argued that the verdict was manifestly inadequate and internally inconsistent. See M.R. Civ. P. 59(a). Wilson appealed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶5] Wilson contends that the court erred in denying her motion for additur or a new trial, arguing, as she did in the Superior Court, that the jurys verdict was manifestly inadequate and internally inconsistent in that the jury rationally could not have found that Condon had injured her while awarding no damages. In support of her argument, she points to essentially uncontroverted testimonial evidence about the adverse effects of Barnards injuries on their marriage and to the jurys responses to Questions 3 and 4 of the verdict form.

         [¶6] We review a ruling on a motion for additur or new trial for an abuse of discretion, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and deferring to the jury on issues of credibility. Marr, 495 A.2d at 1206-07; accord Ma v. Bryan, 2010 ME 55, ¶¶ 2, 4, 8, 997A.2d 755 ("We accord significant deference to jury verdicts because the jury is best situated to evaluate the credibility and demeanor of witnesses."); see Guilford Yacht Club Ass'n, Inc. v. Ne. Dredging, Inc., 438 A.2d 478, 481 (Me. 1981) ("[A]ll rational intendments are to be taken in support of the jury verdict." (quotation marks omitted)). An award of damages is "the sole province of the jury, " Binette v. Deane, 391A.2d 811, 815 (Me. 1978) (quotation marks omitted), and "will not be overturned unless it is without rational explanation, " Walter v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2000 ME 63, ¶ 35, 748 A.2d 961 (quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, an appellant who argues that a court abused its discretion in denying a motion for additur or a new trial due to inadequate damages bears the significant burden of showing that "the award is without rational explanation and, hence, is to be deemed a disregard by the jury of the evidence or the result of passion, bias, prejudice, accident, mistake [of fact or law] or improper compromise." Binette, 391 A.2d at 815 (quotation marks omitted); accord Chenell v. Westbrook Coll., 324 A.2d 735, 737 (Me. 1974).

         [¶7] Wilson has failed to meet her burden of demonstrating any of the available grounds for overturning a jurys verdict pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 59(a). In alleging that the jury had no rational basis for its verdict, Wilson points to little else aside from the fact that the jury did not find in her favor when it refused to award her damages. See Ma,2010 ME 55, ¶ 10, 997A.2d755; see also Nyzio v. Vaillancourt,382 A.2d 856, 862 (Me. 1978) (explaining that the amount of damages awarded was insufficient, by itself, to show that the jury acted improperly). Verdicts in which a jury finds a defendant liable but awards low or no damages to the plaintiff are not inherently irrational or improper and do not necessarily warrant additur or a new trial pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 59(a). See Reardon v. Larkin,2010 ME 86, ¶¶ 16-17, 3 A.3d 376; Pelletie ...


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