Archive - Automobile Liability

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August 22, 2016

Insufficient Credible Evidence to Warrant Surgery

Donna M. Young obtained an excellent result in a jury trial in Malara v. Fish in King County Superior Court.  Defendants admitted liability in this rear-end low-speed impact automobile collision case.  The trial centered on the issue of whether the plaintiff was in need of cervical fusion surgery as a result of pre-existing conditions or because of the injuries sustained in the accident. Even without testimony on the force of impact, Donna argued that there was insufficient credible evidence that the plaintiff needed surgery in the future based on the testimony from a primary care physician, and that there was no evidence that the accident made the per-existing disc budge and degenerative conditions worse. The plaintiff had asked for over $200,000 in damages, and the jury awarded her only $8,000.

Lee Smart attorneys have extensive experience in the Areas of Practice shown to the right. Click on one to learn more about our expertise and our attorneys in that practice.

November 4, 2013

Washington Restricts a Litigant’s Appeal from Mandatory Arbitration

By Michelle A. Corsi

A jointly and severally liable litigant who appeals a mandatory arbitration award must improve the position of all defendants to avoid paying her opponent’s legal fees and costs associated with the new trial, the Court of Appeals had held.  Huntington v. Mueller, No. 42977-2-II, 2013 WL 2353783 (May 29, 2013).

In Huntington, Mueller’s car collided with a car driven by Henry, in which Huntington was a passenger.  Huntington was injured and sued both Mueller and Henry; all parties stipulated to mandatory arbitration.  The arbitrator awarded Huntington $50,000 and found that Mueller was 100% at fault because she negligently accelerated and caused the collision when Henry had the right of way.

Mueller requested a trial de novo, where a jury increased the award to Huntington and found Mueller and Henry both 50% liable.  The trial court entered judgment against Mueller and Henry jointly and severally, and ordered Mueller to pay Huntington’s attorney fees and costs, concluding that Mueller was responsible for Huntington’s attorney fees and costs because although Mueller had improved her position as to co-defendant Henry, Mueller did not improve her position as to plaintiff Huntington.  The trial court explained Mueller was jointly and severally liable for a judgment greater than the arbitration award and that any potential contribution from Henry was irrelevant under RCW 7.60.060 and MAR 7.3.  Mueller appealed the award of attorney fees.

Mueller argued that in a multi-party case where the jury allocates fault, the ultimate amount paid by the individual defendants determines if the appealing party improved her position.  The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, determining that logic might apply when an arbitrator finds co-defendants jointly and severally liable, but the trial de novo results only in several liability.  These co-defendants would have improved their position because they cannot be required to pay more than their several share of the award.  But, as the Court of Appeals noted, “Mueller could not reasonably have believed the jury would find Huntington at fault for a car accident where Huntington was simply a passenger in Henry’s vehicle.”

Where co-defendants are unlikely to escape joint and several liability, a mere shift in the percentage of liability between them will not change their positions relative to the plaintiff.  And the right of contribution among them does not change the extent of each co-defendant’s liability.  As the Court of Appeals observed, Mueller’s liability for the whole would not be satisfied until co-defendant Henry paid her portion.  Accordingly, Mueller’s right to seek contribution from Henry did not change the extent of her liability to Huntington.

Moreover, awarding Huntington attorney fees and costs against Mueller fulfills the purposes of RCW 7.06.060 and MAR 7.3 (easing court congestion, encouraging settlement, and discouraging meritless appeals).  Huntington was the party the rules seek to protect from unnecessary litigation costs.  Not only was he fault-free, but the jury increased his damage award.  It was, therefore, unreasonable for Huntington to incur the costs of a trial de novo with reimbursement.

Finally, the opinion includes a puzzling statement based on Christie-Lambert Van & Storage Co., Inc. v. McLeod, 39 Wn. App. 298, 693 P.2d 161 (1984).  Relying on this decision, the Huntington  court stated that Mueller could have sought a trial de novo to determine only the percentage of fault between her and Henry.  However, the Christie-Lambert holding was based on the plaintiff’s offer to stipulate to a trial de novo limited to co-defendants’ cross-claims.  It would not be wise for a defense lawyer to rely on this part of the holding in the absence of such a stipulation because parties generally may not unilaterally seek a partial trial de novo of a mandatory arbitration award.

Lee Smart attorneys have extensive experience in the Areas of Practice shown to the right. Click on one to learn more about our expertise and our attorneys in that practice.

April 5, 2013

Auto Accident Personal Injuries Case

Steven G. Wraith, Deborah A. Severson and Jackie L. Jensen successfully defended Guerrero v. Yost, in Spokane County Superior Court.  Cherie Guerrero sued our client, Mr. Yost, for damages for personal injuries following an auto accident.  Plaintiffs also sought damages for parental loss of consortium based on alleged traumatic brain injuries suffered by their two developmentally disabled children.   Plaintiffs asked the jury to award $1,000,000.  After a two-week trial and four hours of deliberation the jury returned an award of approximately $86,000.

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