The car accident injury lawsuit of Pouzanova v. Morton was riddled with legal problems, which the Alaska Supreme Court was recently tasked with sorting.
New York City car accident lawyers know that while statutes and civil procedure vary from state-to-state, this case is relevant to injured parties here in that it shows why plaintiff attorneys should fight vigorously against admission of certain forms of evidence.
Specifically, evidence of a victim’s marital problems should not factor into allegations of harm caused by an unrelated auto accident, as the trial court allowed in this case. The state supreme court ultimately reversed on the grounds that such evidence was prejudicial to a degree that its probative value was outweighed. A new trial was granted.
According to court records, the defendant driver passed a stop sign at an intersection without stopping and was broadsided by the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff was rushed to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a compression fracture and lower back pain. Her pain persisted for several months, and she received ongoing care for those issues during that time.
When the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant for negligence, the defendant never contested she was responsible for the crash. However, she argued the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries were overblown.
Initially, the plaintiff sought compensation for lost wages and medical expenses, but those assertions were later dropped and the only claims to continue were for non-economic damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages (punishment to the defendant). The punitive damages aspect was dismissed by the court prior to trial.
Central to the plaintiff’s case was the degree to which she had suffered a loss of enjoyment in life. Based on this, the trial court allowed the defendant to bring forth evidence of domestic violence within the plaintiff’s marriage, including an incident in which she allegedly attacked her husband with a hammer. The defendant asserted the plaintiff’s marital troubles – not the car accident – were the core cause of any loss of life enjoyment.
The jury ultimately awarded a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor – but only for $5,000.
The superior court vacated the jury’s decision and remanded the case for a new trial. That court indicated the defendant would have to request a joinder of the husband as a third-party defendant if there was any assertion that he would be allocated a portion of the fault.
Upon appeal, the state supreme court found no error with the dismissal of punitive damages or in the trial court’s declination to admit the husband as a third-party defendant. However, the court held that allowance of evidence pertaining to domestic violence in the case was irrelevant because it lacked proper context. Further, the court found it to be highly prejudicial to the plaintiff, while not serving as a central point to the defendant’s case.
Although the defendant argued alternatively that the plaintiff’s ability to wield a hammer showed she wasn’t sufficiently injured, the state supreme court indicated the evidence was too vague to make that connection.
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Pouzanova v. Morton, June 20, 2014, Alaska Supreme Court
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