This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Verna K. Martin, et al.,
Vern Lyrek, et al.,
Filed September 17, 1996
St. Louis County District Court
File No. C494300594
James F. Clark, 1932 Second Avenue East #2, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for Respondents)
Robert E. Mathias, 1217 East First Street, Duluth, MN 55805 (for Appellants)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This is an appeal from a trial court order denying a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial. Because we conclude that the trial court acted within its discretion by rejecting appellants' assertions of (1)damages, (2)evidentiary rulings, and (3)lack of evidence supporting the jury's apportionment of negligence, we affirm.
Respondent Verna Martin brought this action to recover damages resulting from an ankle injury she sustained stepping down from the house level to the floor of the attached garage in her home, which was being constructed by appellants Vern Lyrek and Wick Building Systems, Incorporated (Wick). Her husband, respondent Stanley Martin, asserted a claim for loss of consortium.
The Martins contracted with Wick to construct the home in 1991. Lyrek was a masonry subcontractor on the project. Although the builders had not finished the home by its scheduled completion date of October 1991, the Martins moved in at the end of that month. A step was missing below a door between the house and the attached garage. The door opened over the garage floor, which was 14 inches lower than the door's threshold.
As construction on the house continued over the next few months, the Martins frequently parked their car on the street rather than in their garage. One morning in February 1992, Verna Martin did park the car in the garage, and later that day, she twisted her left ankle as she stepped down from the house to the garage floor.
Verna Martin sought medical attention for her ankle injury and underwent ligament reconstruction surgery in August 1992. After the surgery, she claims to have continued to experience pain and swelling in her left ankle.
In this action against Wick and Lyrek, Verna Martin alleged that her injury resulted from defendants' negligent failure to install a step between her house and the attached garage. By special verdict, a jury attributed 45 percent of the negligence to Wick, 45 percent to Lyrek, and 10 percent to Verna Martin. The jury awarded damages to Verna Martin in the amounts of $22,023.97 for past medical expenses, $25,000 for past pain and suffering, $2,500 for future medical expenses, and $250,000 for future pain and suffering. The trial court reduced the award by 10 percent, to reflect the finding of contributory negligence, leaving Verna Martin an award of $269,571.57. Stanley Martin received no damages.
Wick and Lyrek moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. They asserted various errors, including (1)size of the award for Verna Martin's future pain and suffering; (2)trial court's rulings on the admissibility of certain evidence; and (3)finding that Verna Martin was only 10 percent negligent. The trial court denied the motion. Wick and Lyrek appeal.
D E C I S I O N
The trial court has the broadest possible discretion in determining whether a new trial should be granted for excessive damages. Bisbee v. Ruppert, 306 Minn. 39, 48-49, 235 N.W.2d 364, 371 (1975). On an appeal challenging an award of damages, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Jonsson v. Ames Constr., 409 N.W.2d 560, 563 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Sept. 30, 1987).
Factors relevant to a determination of damages in a personal injury action include: past and future pain, permanent disability, life expectancy, the ability of the injured party to follow her usual occupation, loss of earning power, the effect of the injury on the party's enjoyment of the amenities of life, the degree of disfigurement resulting from the injury, and the inflationary trend of the economy. Dawydowycz v. Quady, 300 Minn. 436, 440, 220 N.W.2d 478, 481 (1974).
Viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence adequately supports the jury's award of damages: (1)Martin testified at trial that she continued to feel a burning sensation and a deep, sharp pain in her ankle that "never lets up"; (2)family physician described her ankle condition as "permanent"; (3)average woman of her age, which was 63 at the time of trial, could theoretically be expected to live an additional 17 years after the date of the verdict; (4)is less able to engage in her customary housework activities and hires a woman to clean the house once every two weeks, in addition to having her husband help her with domestic chores more than he used to; (5)no longer participates in a number of activities, that used to be normal for her, such as dancing, walking, golfing, fishing, entertaining, baby-sitting, and traveling; and (6)has a scar on her ankle from the surgery, and her ankles are frequently swollen, making it necessary for her to wear large, men's shoes. In view of this evidence, we conclude that the trial court acted within its discretion by determining that the jury's award of damages was not so excessive as to warrant a new trial.
2. Evidentiary Rulings
We will not interfere with a ruling on the admissibility of evidence unless the trial court erroneously interpreted applicable law or abused its discretion. Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990).
Appellants argue that the trial court erred by allowing respondents to introduce evidence of faulty workmanship relating to parts of the house other than the doorway between the kitchen and the garage. During Stanley Martin's testimony, respondents objected to the introduction of two exhibits on the ground of relevancy. One exhibit was a list of various items that remained undone at the time of trial, including the step between the house and garage. The other exhibit was an album of photographs of allegedly faulty workmanship in various areas of the house, including the doorway between the house and the garage. The trial court admitted the exhibits over respondents' objections. In view of the broad discretion accorded the trial court in making evidentiary rulings, we conclude that the trial court did not err in admitting these two exhibits.
3. Apportionment of Negligence
Finally, appellants claim that the evidence did not justify the jury's apportionment of negligence among the parties, and therefore appellants are entitled to a new trial. See Minn. R. Civ. P.(providing that the trial court may grant a new trial when the verdict is not justified by the evidence). The decision to grant a new trial rests within the discretion of the trial court. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990).
Based on testimony that Verna Martin had walked through the doorway to the garage on other occasions before her injury, appellants argue that the jury should have apportioned more than 10 percent of the negligence to her. However, the record also demonstrates that appellants' construction of the door from the Martins' kitchen to their garage produced a drop of 14 inches, nearly twice the height allowed under the Uniform Building Code. The Uniform Building Code in effect at the time of the construction of the Martins' house prohibited the construction of a door that opened over a landing more than 7-1/2 inches below the threshold. Uniform Building Code §exception(1988) ("[In a dwelling, a] door may open at a landing that is not more than 7inches lower than the floor levelc.f. Minn. R. 1305.0100 (1991) (adopting provisions of 1988 Uniform Building Code by reference). Vern Lyrek testified to being aware of this requirement, and appellants do not dispute they failed to comply with the code in constructing the Martins' house. Under these circumstances, we conclude that the trial court acted within its discretion by finding that the jury's allocation of negligence was not so unreasonable as to require a new trial.