Appellate court overturns judge's decision to grant a new trial where back injury exacerbated
Ted Olney sued Darbin M. Fogg and Tracy Lynn Fogg after Darbin rear-ended him in a low speed accident. Olney claimed that the collision exacerbated his existing back and neck troubles, thereby constituting a "serious impairment of bodily function" necessary to hold the Foggs liable fo damages resulting from Darbin's negligence. He provided evidence that he underwent surgery after the Fogg collision. After a jury trial, a verdict was returned holding that Olney "suffered no injury" in the Fogg collision. The judge discussed the verdict with jurors and concluded that they did not understand the instructions they had received. Under Michigan law based on the "thin-skull" or "egg-shell" plaintiff rule, an at-fault actor is responsible for all the damages resulting from his or her negligence, even if the damages are enhanced by an existing weakness or susceptibility in the victim. Concluding that the jury did not understand this rule, the judge ordered a new trial, and Foggs' insurer appealed.On appeal, the higher court ruled that a judge may not overturn a verdict based upon informal conversations with jurors after their deliberations have resulted in a verdict. The court pointed out that a jury must be presumed to have followed its instructions and that the instructions given in this case accurately stated the law. Since the judge did not rule that the verdict was "against the great weight of the evidence" or provide any other Court Rule-justification for the reversal, the jury verdict must stand.