(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this brain injury/car accident case and its proceedings.)
The well-established standard for the trial court’s determination of sufficiency of the evidence was set forth by the California Supreme Court, In the Matter of the Estate of Caroline H. Bainbridge, et al. v. McCarthy (1915) 169 Cal.166:
In the determination of a motion for a new trial, the verdict should be set aside if, in the opinion of the trial court, it is not supported by sufficient evidence; and this is equally true whether there be an absence of evidence or that the evidence received, in the individual judgment of the trial judge, is lacking in probative force to establish the proposition of the fact to which it is addressed. This is the meaning of the terms insufficiency of evidence. (Code Civ. Proc., sec 657, subd. 6.) In the Matter of the Estate of Caroline H. Bainbridge, et al. v. McCarthy, supra, 169 Cal.at p.167.
The appellate court’s scope of review is limited, especially when the court exercises its discretion in favor of a new trial. The trial court’s exercise of discretion may only be disturbed where a “manifest and unmistakable abuse of discretion clearly appears.” See Candido v. Huitt, supra, 151 Cal.App.3d at pp. 922-923, citing Jimenez v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (1971) 4 Cal.3d 379, 387. Our state Supreme Court in Jimenez v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., supra, clarified the limited scope of the court’s review on appeal:
The determination of a motion for a new trial rests so completely within the court’s discretion that its action will not be disturbed unless a manifest and unmistakable abuse of discretion clearly appears. This is particularly true when the discretion is exercised in favor of awarding a new trial, for this action does not finally dispose of the matter. So long as a reasonable or even fairly debatable justification under the law is shown for the order granting the new trial, the order will not be set aside. Jimenez v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., supra, 4 Cal.3d at p. 387. [citations omitted.]
In the instant case, upon weighing the credibility and reliability of the evidence, including the testimony of the percipient witnesses and the experts, the evidence strongly supports that defendant White was negligent in colliding with the Escalade which caused the Escalade to collide into Dr. Black’s BMW a second time and propelled the BMW a second time into the rear of the Hawke’s trailer, for a total of four impacts. When the testimony of all witnesses, including Defendant’s accident reconstructionist, is considered by this court, it must lead the court to the inescapable conclusion that Defendant White was negligent for rear-ending Lyon, and her negligence was the catalyst for the second series of collisions.
The jury’s failure to find Ms. White negligent was clearly unsupported by the evidence and cannot be substantiated. There was no testimony at trial that supported Defendant’s argument that the Escalade abruptly entered her lane; that she acted reasonably to avoid the collision, or that her collision with the Escalade did not cause a second rear and front-end impact to Dr. Black’s BMW.
Substantial evidence supports that Dr. Black sustained cumulative and indivisible injuries from the four successive impacts that rendered his car a total loss, but the jury did not even consider causation. The testimony of both biomechanical experts supported an injury from the force of the collision. All medical experts supported a measure; of special damages. (Declaration of Shana Mulligan attached to JNOV, page 3, paragraphs 8 and 9.) The body of the evidence must form the basis of the jury’s verdict. In this case, it did not. Accordingly, a new trial is warranted. (See Part 4 of 12.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.