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Contributory Negligence - Spoliation of Evidence - Excessiveness of Compensatory Damages

Campbell v. Kennedy, [Ms. 1160444, Oct. 26, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018). This unanimous decision by Justice Sellers (Justice Shaw recuses) affirms the Greene Circuit Court’s judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding Kennedy $3 million in compensatory damages. Ms. *2-3.

Defendants argued Kennedy was contributorily negligent as a matter of law for crossing the double yellow line as he attempted to pass the Defendant’s Caterpillar motor grader. Ms. *9. The Court held that “there was an abundance of conflicting evidence before the jurors that would have allowed them to reach opposite conclusions as to whether Kennedy was justified in crossing the double-yellow line in an attempt to pass the motor grader ....” Ms. *13.

The Court also rejected the defendant’s motion for new trial challenging the trial court’s charging the jury on spoliation of evidence. After cataloguing the evidence regarding spoliation, the Court “conclude[d] that a sufficient foundation existed for the jury charge on the doctrine of spoliation of evidence.” Ms. *18. However, the Court further held that “[m]ore importantly, we further conclude that the jury instruction on the doctrine of spoliation had no prejudicial effect on the trial of this case because ... nothing in the record suggests that the jury’s verdict was aimed at punishing the defendants for the alleged spoliation rather than merely compensating Kennedy for his injuries.” Ibid.

Finally, the Court rejected the excessiveness challenge to the $3 million compensatory-damages verdict. The Court noted that the plaintiff was 27 years old at the time of the accident and that his injuries required surgery to install a steel rod in his broken femur and insertion of screws to repair injuries to his pelvis. Ms. *19. The Court held that “[t]he law is clear ... that jury verdicts are presumed correct, ‘especially where damages are awarded for pain and suffering.’” Ms. *22, quoting Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Parker, 451 So. 2d 786, 788 (Ala. 1984). The Court further noted that “compensatory damages for pain and suffering cannot be measured by any yardstick, and the amount awarded must be ‘left to the sound discretion of the jury, subject only to correction by the court for clear abuse or passionate exercise of that discretion.’” Ms. *22, quoting Alabama Power Co. v. Moseley, 294 Ala. 394, 401, 318 So. 2d 260, 266 (1975).

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