Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Summary 2010 WY 75

Summary of Decision issued June 9, 2010

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Lake v. D & L Langley Trucking, Inc.

Citation: 2010 WY 75

Docket Number: S-09-0094

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, the Honorable Michael K. Davis, Judge.

Representing Lake: Bernie Q. Phelan, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing D&L Langley Trucking: Scott E. Ortiz of Williams, Porter, Day & Neville, PC, Casper, Wyoming.

Facts/Discussion: This was an appeal from a personal injury negligence case. Lake was involved in a car accident with Whited, employee of D&L Trucking. Lake alleged that Whited negligently attempted to pass him as he was making a left hand turn thereby causing the collision. The case was tried to a jury where the jury found Lake eighty-six percent at fault for the accident.

Sufficiency of the evidence: The Court found substantial and competent evidence supporting the jury’s findings, including that Whited never saw a turn signal on Lake’s pickup; Lake’s testimony that he was not paying attention and began his left turn without checking his mirrors; and the physical evidence that Lake turned into the tractor-trailer when the front of the tractor was already more than fifteen feet past the front of the pickup. Lake argued the accident would not have happened if Whited had not passed in an intersection and that because passing in an intersection violated state statute, the majority of fault must be Whited’s. The Court stated that although Whited passed at an intersection, it does not make him strictly liable for the accident. Lake’s culpability must also be considered. The jury calculated both party’s culpability as instructed. It then determined the fault of each party in regard to causation of the accident. The jury concluded that Lake bore more responsibility for the accident. Sufficient evidence supported the jury’s allocation of negligence.
Alleged surprise in closing argument: Lake also suggested a new trial was warranted because the comments in the closing argument of defense counsel regarding the application of § 31-5-205(a)(ii) constituted a surprise which ordinary prudence could not have guarded against. Given the strength of the evidence, the Court stated it was doubtful any different result would be obtained from a new trial.
Jury misconduct: Lake argued the misconduct was the rendering of an impermissible quotient verdict based upon an affidavit suggesting the jury agreed to average individual estimated fault. The Court agreed with the district court’s determination that it could not consider the affidavit because it violated W.R.E. 606(b). The rule is a codification of a common law rule that the testimony of a juror cannot be received to impeach the verdict in which he has concurred. Legislative history explicitly contradicts Lake’s argument that the juror affidavit in the instant case was admissible.
Lake also argued that because the jury requested a calculator and it did not award any damages, the jury could only have been using the calculator to compute an averaged percentage of fault for the respective parties. The fact the jury may have used a quotient process for determining fault does not warrant the presumption the jury ultimately rendered an impermissible quotient verdict. The validity of a quotient verdict is determined by whether the jury agreed beforehand to be bound by the result reached.

Conclusion: The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Lake’s motion for a new trial. The evidence was sufficient to support the verdict. If there was any error on the part of defense counsel in closing argument as alleged by Lake, such error was not prejudicial under the facts and circumstances of the case. There was no evidence supporting Lake’s presumption that the jury rendered an impermissible quotient verdict.


J. Golden delivered the decision.

Link: .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance using the Universal Citation format, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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