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Beard v. Dzjuna

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Danbury, Danbury

May 23, 2017

MELISSA BEARD
v.
MICHAEL DZJUNA

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION PLAINTIFFS MOTION TO SET ASIDE JURY VERDICT. #209

          Anthony D. Truglia Jr., J, Judge.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On September 14, 2014, the parties to this action were involved in a motor vehicle collision on Route 34 in Newtown. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant caused the collision and that she sustained a number of serious personal injuries as a result of his actions. She brought suit against the defendant in March 2015. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was liable to her on three theories of recovery: negligence, common law recklessness in the operation of his motor vehicle, and statutory recklessness. The plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the defendant was driving too quickly for conditions on the day of the accident, was inattentive and failed to keep a proper lookout for other drivers. She also claimed that the defendant caused the accident by following her vehicle too closely and by attempting to pass her on the left in a no-passing zone.

         The plaintiff and her husband own a residence located at 93 Berkshire Road (a/k/a Route 34), Newtown. At trial, the plaintiff testified that she was driving her vehicle carefully and in her usual way when she Left Sherman Street, turned onto Route 34 and then, within approximately 100 feet, slowed down to enter her driveway on the other side of Route 34. She testified that she came to a full stop where Sherman Street meets Route 34, looked to the left, saw the bumper of the defendant's vehicle off in the distance and then turned onto Route 34. She presented evidence to establish her claim that the defendant had more than enough time to see her vehicle enter Route 34 from Sherman Street, then slow down and avoid colliding with her vehicle. Despite having more than enough time and distance to avoid a collision, the plaintiff argued at trial, the defendant's carelessness and recklessness caused a serious accident.

         The defendant at trial denied all allegations that he was driving negligently or recklessly on the day of the collision. He claimed that he was driving normally as he followed Route 34 through Newtown and was driving at or close to the speed limit. He also claimed that he had the right of way as he approached Sherman

         Street and encountered the plaintiff's vehicle in the roadway. The defendant testified at trial that as the plaintiff entered Route 34 from Sherman Street, he was faced with the sudden emergency of the plaintiff's vehicle appearing quickly and unexpectedly in front of his vehicle. The defendant claimed, in essence, that the plaintiff s actions in entering Route 34 and then almost immediately stopping to enter her driveway a mere 100 feet down the road was itself reckless.

         This case was tried to a jury over seven days, between March 28, 2017 and April 6, 2017. On the final day of trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the defendant. The jury found that the defendant did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff herself acted recklessly on the day of the accident, which would have defeated her right to recover from the defendant for her injuries.

         The jury also found, however, that the plaintiff failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was negligent or reckless on the day of the accident. After delivering their verdict, the jury was polled at the request of the plaintiff's counsel; each juror confirmed the verdict as noted in the jury interrogatories and verdict form for the defendant. The poll of the jury being unanimous, the court accepted the jury's verdict as final.

         The plaintiff has now filed a motion to set aside the jury's verdict, setting forth four grounds for her motion. First, she contends that the charge of sudden emergency should not have been given to the jury, arguing that there was insufficient evidence before the jury to warrant charging the jury as to this defense. Second, she argues that the court erred when it allowed one of the defendant's expert witnesses, Dr. Robert Lesser, to testify a second time, and erred again in the scope of the direct examination which the court allowed for Dr. Lesser's testimony during his second appearance at trial on behalf of the defendant. Third, she argues that the court improperly limited the scope of the plaintiff's cross-examination of the defendant during the defendant's case-in-chief. Fourth, she argues that the verdict should be set aside as it is manifestly against the weight of the evidence. The plaintiff contends that she presented the jury with more than sufficient evidence establishing that the defendant had at least eight seconds in which to react to the plaintiff's vehicle after it appeared in front of him on Route 34. The evidence at trial clearly demonstrated that the defendant, therefore, had more than enough time in which to avoid a collision. The fact that he failed to do so means either that the sudden emergency with which he claimed he was confronted was of his own making, or that he caused the collision due to excessive speed or inattention.

         Π . Discussion

         " The trial court possesses inherent power to set aside a jury verdict which, in the court's opinion, is Against the law or the evidence The supervision which a judge has over the verdict is an essential part of The jury system. [The trial court] should not set aside a verdict where it is apparent thàt there was some evidence upon which the jury might reasonably reach their conclusion, and should not refuse to set it aside where the manifest injustice of the verdict is so plain and palpable as clearly to denote that some mistake was made by the jury in the application of legal principles, or as to justify the suspicion that they or some of them

         Were influenced by prejudice, corruption or partiality The court has a duty to set aside the verdict where

         The jury's action is so unreasonable as to suggest that it was the product of such improper influences we recognize that, [i]n determining whether to set aside the verdict, the trial court walks a thin line Finally.

         In evaluating the exercise of the trial court's discretion, we are mindful that litigants have a constitutional right to have juries decide issues of fact. The right to a jury trial is fundamental in our judicial system, and this court has said that the right is one obviously immovable limitation on the legal discretion of the court to set aside a verdict, since the constitutional right of trial by jury includes the right to have issues of fact as to which there is room for a reasonable difference of opinion among fair-minded men passed upon by the jury and not ...


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