Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
Allstate Insurance Company,
Filed February 24, 1998
St. Louis County District Court
File No. C1-96-602008
Robert C. Falsani, Sean M. Quinn, Falsani, Balmer, Berglund & Peterson, 1200 Alworth Building, 306 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellants)
Robert C. Barnes, Magie, Andresen, Haag, Paciotti, Butterworth & McCarthy, P.A., 1000 Alworth Building, 306 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
This is an appeal from a judgment denying a motion for new trial in personal injury litigation. The question on appeal is whether the jury award of $2,500 for general damages was inadequate as a matter of law when compared to the award of approximately $31,000 for special damages and $3,000 for loss of consortium. We conclude that the damage award is not in fatal opposition to the facts and affirm.
Allstate did not dispute that the other driver was liable for the accident and that Roehl's medical expenses prior to trial totaled $8,167.85. Allstate, however, questioned whether all of Roehl's medical expenses were related to the automobile accident. According to Allstate's expert witness, Roehl's injuries from the accident were resolved within 30 to 60 days, and any additional treatment was related to a prior condition of degenerative arthritis. According to Roehl's treating doctors, the accident resulted in permanent injuries, including irreversible aggravation to Roehl's arthritis.
The jury found that Roehl had not sustained a permanent injury but had sustained a disability of 60 days or more. The jury awarded Roehl $8,167.85 for past medical expenses, $22,692 for past loss of earnings, $2,500 for past pain and suffering, and $0 for future damages. The jury awarded Roehl's wife $3,000 for loss of consortium. Because the total award did not exceed Roehl's UIM policy limits of $50,000, the district court concluded that Roehl was not entitled to UIM benefits from Allstate.
Roehl reasons that because the jury awarded him $22,692 in past wage loss, the jury must have believed that either he was unable to work until the time of trial (approximately three years after the accident), or that his work was limited until that time. Proceeding on either prong, according to Roehl, would require a greater award of general damages as a matter of law. But if the wage loss of $22,692 is divided by Roehl's monthly salary at the time of the accident (approximately $1,350), the award is allocable to approximately 17 months. The jury's general damages award of $2,500, when allocated over 17 months, is the equivalent of approximately $150 per month for pain and suffering. In light of the conflicting testimony on the type and duration of Roehl's injuries, we cannot say the district court clearly abused its discretion by refusing to deny a new trial on the basis of these damages.
Roehl points out that the jury awarded him $500 less than the jury awarded his wife for loss of consortium. Damages for loss of consortium compensate for "the reciprocal rights inherent in the marital relationship of husband and wife, including such undefined elements as comfort, companionship, and commitment to the needs of each other." Thill v. Modern Erecting Co., 284 Minn. 508, 510, 170 N.W.2d 865, 867-68 (1969). Applying this definition, it would not be inherently unreasonable for the jury to have found that Roehl's wife suffered damages for loss of consortium exceeding Roehl's damages for pain and suffering.
Roehl cites several cases in support of his claim that the award of general damages was inadequate. The cited cases are distinguishable because they involved situations in which the plaintiffs experienced more objectively severe injuries than Roehl. See, e.g., Schore v. Mueller, 290 Minn. 186, 186 N.W.2d 699 (1971) (concluding that new trial was required when plaintiff required extensive medical treatment eventually resulting in laminectomy and spinal fusion); Kloos v. Soo Line R.R., 286 Minn. 172, 176 N.W.2d 274 (1970) (reversing denial of new trial when, following automobile accident, plaintiff suffered laceration of left tibia and left shin, loss of two teeth and fracture of one, lacerations on both forearms, and gross deformity of one leg resulting from fractures of the leg and knee, requiring three hospitalizations, surgeries, and extended use of a wheelchair); Walser v. Vinge, 275 Minn. 230, 146 N.W.2d 537 (1966) (reversing denial of new trial when plaintiff suffered herniated disc, for which he was hospitalized four times, had two surgeries, and was later placed in cast from hips to chest); Olson v. Christiansen, 230 Minn. 198, 41 N.W.2d 248 (1950) (concluding that award of no general damages was insufficient when plaintiff had produced objective evidence of pain, suffering, and disability as a result of sacroiliac sprain of his back and partial tearing of the muscles of his neck, with resultant limitation of neck movement due to scar formation); Shearer v. Puent, 166 Minn. 425, 208 N.W. 182 (1926) (requiring new trial on damages when plaintiff's collarbone was torn loose, his arm was partially dislocated, ligaments around his shoulder were torn, scapula of his left shoulder was fractured, his eyesight was much impaired, and he was in the hospital for approximately nine weeks, during which time he suffered intense pain).
No testimony indicates that Roehl's injuries were as severe as the injuries in the cases he cites. Roehl suffered neck and back strain, aggravating a prior condition of degenerative arthritis. He had completed all medical treatment approximately a year and a half after the accident. For these damages, the jury awarded approximately $150 per month for pain and suffering. The district court did not clearly abuse its discretion by refusing to award Roehl a new trial on the issue of general damages.