Judgment For Nominal Damages Affirmed In Personal Injury Case: Caplan V. Benator


Caplan v. Benator, [Ms. 2160904, Mar. 16, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). Here the Court of Civil Appeals (Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur; Moore, J., concurs in the result) affirms a judgment on a jury's verdict in favor of a plaintiff awarding $1 in damages in a tort action brought by the 93-year-old surviving girlfriend of a decedent against the decedent's two daughters who were named as executives of the estate of their deceased father. The court rejects the girlfriend's assertion that the award of $1 in damages was inadequate compensation for her injuries, and was inconsistent with the jury's determination that the daughters were liable to her for their tortious conduct. The analysis begins with the standard of review:

"In Alabama, jury verdicts are presumed to be correct and that presumption of correctness is further strengthened by a trial court's denial of a motion for new trial. The appellate court reviews the tendencies of the evidence most favorable to the prevailing party and indulges such inferences as the jury was free to draw. Accordingly, when a judgment is based on a jury verdict, it will not be reversed unless it is plainly and palpably wrong. Ashbee v. Brock, 510 So. 2d 214 (Ala. 1987)."

Dennis v. Lewis, 621 So. 2d 301, 303 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993).

"'"When reviewing a motion for new trial on the grounds of inadequate damages, the reviewing court must consider whether the verdict is so opposed to the clear and convincing weight of the evidence as to clearly fail to do substantial justice, and whether the verdict fails to give substantial compensation for substantial injuries. Orr v. Hammond, 460 So. 2d 1322 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984). In addition, the reviewing court must keep in mind that a jury verdict is presumed to be correct and will not be set aside for an inadequate award of damages unless the amount awarded is so inadequate as to indicate that the verdict is the result of passion, prejudice, or other improper motive. Orr v. Hammond, supra."'

"Wells [v. Mohammad], 879 So. 2d 1188, 1194 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003) (quoting Helena Chem. Co. v. Ahern, 496 So. 2d 12, 14 (Ala. 1986))."

412 S. Court St., LLC v. Alabama Psychiatric Servs., P.C., 163 So. 3d 1020, 1029 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014).

Ms. *16. Because the girlfriend's medical expert's opinion testimony did not necessarily relate her heart attack to the actions of the daughters "[i]t [was] peculiarly within the province of the jury to resolve conflicts regarding the proximate consequences of a defendant's negligence. Youngblood v. Thornton, 576 So. 2d 229 (Ala. 1991)." Ms. *18-19. Further, "[i]t is ... axiomatic that a jury is entitled to award nominal damages in those cases where no causal connection can be found between the damages suffered and the duty breached." Ms. *18 (quoting Courtesy Ford Sales, Inc. v. Hendrix, 536 So. 2d 88, 90 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988)).

The court also rejects the girlfriend's arguments that the trial court erred in refusing to give certain instructions to the jury. Citing Ware v. Timmons, 954 So. 2d 545, 558 (Ala. 2006), the court concludes the girlfriend failed to preserve her arguments for appeal as she was required to have "(1) objected before the jury retired to consider its verdict; (2) stated the matter that [s]he was objecting to; and (3) supplied the grounds for [her] objection." Ms. *31. Because the girlfriend did not object to the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury on her requested instructions, she waived any contentions of error.

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