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Allen v. Albea

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 23, 2015

GREGORY D. ALLEN
v.
DEBBIE D. ALBEA

Session March 10, 2015

Page 367

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Page 368

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Page 369

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Madison County. No. C12326. Donald H. Allen, Judge.

David A. Siegel, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gregory D. Allen.

Jay G. Bush, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Debbie D. Albea.

ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRANDON O. GIBSON, J., and KENNY ARMSTRONG, J., joined.

OPINION

ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, J.

Page 370

This appeal arises from a jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $11,513.78. On appeal, Plaintiff raises several evidentiary issues, contends that juror misconduct requires a new trial, and asserts that the verdict is not supported by the evidence. We affirm.

This lawsuit arises from a January 2012 automobile accident in which a vehicle operated by Plaintiff Gregory D. Allen (" Mr. Allen" ) was struck from the rear by a vehicle operated by Defendant Debbie D. Albea (" Ms. Albea" ). In December 2012, Mr. Allen filed a complaint for damages in the Circuit Court for Madison County. In his complaint, Mr. Allen alleged that he had sustained injuries as a result of the accident and that his injuries were proximately caused by the negligence of Ms. Albea. Mr. Allen prayed for damages in the amount of $250,000, arising from past and future physical pain and mental anguish; lost earning capacity; past and future lost wages; the inability to enjoy life; and past and future medical expenses, including partial past medical expenses in the amount of $28,478.39. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 24-5-113, Mr. Allen itemized his partial medical expenses and attached receipts to his complaint.[1] Mr. Allen did not seek any recovery for property damage to his vehicle.

Ms. Albea answered in April 2013. In her answer, Ms. Albea admitted that her vehicle " made contact with the rear of [Mr. Allen's] vehicle[,]" but denied Mr. Allen's allegations of negligence. She asserted the doctrine of comparative fault as an affirmative defense and objected to the rebuttable presumption proffered by Mr. Allen that the medical expenses set-forth in his complaint were reasonable and necessary. Ms. Albea demanded a trial by jury, and the trial court set the matter to be tried on February 20, 2014.

Page 371

On February 10, 2014, Mr. Allen filed a motion to establish as admitted his requests for admissions regarding the reasonableness and necessity of his medical bills, asserting that the requests were served on Ms. Albea in September 2013. In his motion, Mr. Allen stated that Ms. Albea " responded in some instances, and in other instances failed to address the request at all, responding instead to requests that did not exist." Mr. Allen also filed a motion in limine to exclude " photographs purportedly depicting minimal or light property damage . . . if offered to prove or suggest that Plaintiff was not injured or was only minimally injured." In his motion, he alleged:

No biomechanical expert or other expert has been offered to opine that minimal " appearing" property damage is equal to minimal impact and thus no injury or minimal injury. There are many instances when the appearance of minimal vehicle damage can be misleading as there are a number of ways in which a significant impact can occur without much visible property damage. It is not Plaintiff's burden to disprove any alleged connection between property damage, impact and injury unless or until the [D]efendant offers competent expert testimony which attempts to establish such a connection. Defendant has offered no such expert. The jury should not be permitted to speculate.

Ms. Albea responded to Mr. Allen's motion in limine on February 18, asserting, in relevant part, that any evidence indicating that Mr. Allen was not injured in the accident was relevant and probative. She asserted that evidence of the lack of damage to the parties' vehicles was circumstantial evidence from which the jury might infer that Mr. Allen was minimally injured. On February 18, Ms. Albea also responded to Mr. Allen's motion to deem requests for admissions as admitted. In her response, Ms. Albea stated that she admitted in her discovery responses that medical bills attached to Mr. Allen's complaint were genuine but did not admit that the charges were causally connected to the January 2012 accident. She asserted that she adequately responded to Mr. Allen's requests for admissions. She also moved the court for leave to amend and deny several of Mr. Allen's requests for admissions if the court deemed her responses insufficient.

It does not appear from the record transmitted to this Court that Mr. Allen responded to Ms. Albea's motion or that the trial court adjudicated the motion prior to the trial date. Rather, the trial considered the parties' pre-trial motions on the first day of the two- day trial. At a brief hearing before the court, prior to the jury venire being brought into the courtroom, the trial court orally denied Mr. Allen's motion to exclude photographs of the parties' vehicles and granted Mr. Allen's oral motion to file the evidentiary depositions of Dr. Earl Stewart (" Dr. Stewart" ) and Dr. Meghan Marie von Holtz (" Dr. von Holtz" ), the senior chiropractor at the chiropractic practice at which Mr. Allen was treated.[2]

The trial court also heard Mr. Allen's motion to deem his requests for admissions admitted. Ms. Albea admitted that Mr. Allen's medical bills were " true charges" and stipulated that the bills were authentic and accurate, but denied that they were " all causally connected to the accident." She repeated her motion for leave to amend her responses if the trial court found them to be insufficient. The

Page 372

trial court stated, " Well, I think the response was sufficient, but I will grant [Ms. Albea's] motion to amend your answers to deny that." Upon questioning by the trial court, Ms. Albea stated that she did not object to Mr. Allen's medical bills being entered into evidence but again denied that they were causally related to the accident.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Allen in the amount of $11,513.78, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict on March 7, 2014. Mr. Allen filed a motion for a new trial, alteration or amendment, or additur on March 26. In his motion, Mr. Allen alleged that " extraneous information was presented to the jury by juror number eleven (11), William Pinson, in violation of the Court's jury instructions and in further violation of Rule 606(b) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and the controlling cases in this state." He relied upon and incorporated the affidavit of juror Garrick Lofton in support of this allegation. Mr. Allen also asserted that the verdict was inadequate and against the weight of the evidence in light of the " uncontradicted evidence as to the reasonableness and necessity of the medical charges[]" ; that the trial court erred by denying his motion to deem requests for admissions as admitted; that the trial court erred by denying his request at trial to introduce Ms. Albea's responses to his requests for admissions into evidence; that the court erred by allowing the jury to consider " hearsay opinion . . . of Dr. Akin as substantive" ; and that the trial court erred by denying his motion to exclude photographs of the vehicles. The trial court denied Mr. Allen's motion following a hearing on June 24, 2014. The trial court entered final judgment in the matter on July 11, 2014, and this appeal ensued.

Issues Presented

Mr. Allen presents the following issues for our review, as stated in his brief:

1. Was extraneous information presented to the jury by juror number eleven (11), William Pinson, in violation of the Court's jury instructions and in further violation of Rule 606(b) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and the controlling cases in this state; and, if so is the [P]laintiff entitled to a new trial?
2. Is the jury verdict inadequate and against the weight of evidence as to the reasonableness and necessity of the medical charges?
3. Did the Court err by denying Plaintiff's motion to deem the [D]efendant's responses to Requests for Admissions as admitted?
4. Did the Court err by denying Plaintiff's request at trial to introduce into evidence the [D]efendant's responses to the requests for admission, both as originally filed and as amended on the morning of trial?
5. Did the Court err in allowing the jury to consider hearsay opinions, conclusions and statements of Dr. Akin as substantive evidence when the [D]efendant did not seek authentication of those records, did not offer or present Dr. Akin as a witness at trial and did not lay a proper foundation for said testimony to be considered as substantive evidence?
6. Did the Court err by denying Plaintiff's request to exclude photographs of the vehicles when no request for property damage was made, liability was admitted by the [D]efendant, and no expert was offered by the defense to provide scientific testimony as ...

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