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Appellate Court upholds verdict for future wage loss

Bradley Ross sued David Plunkett and Pro-Med Delivery after Ross was badly hurt in a car accident on I-696 in Oakland County.  Ross claimed that Plunkett suddenly swerved into his lane and then stopped abruptly, leaving Ross no time to avoid a collision.   Plunkett presented contradictory evidence, suggesting that his driving was appropriate and not a cause of the collision.  Ultimately, the jury held both drivers to be fifty percent at-fault and awarded Ross one-half of his future damages.  Plunkett's insurer filed an appeal raising a number of issues in the management of the case.

First, the Defendants argued that it was impossible for both drivers to be at fault and that the verdict was contrary to the evidence and inconsistent.  The Court noted that when it reviews a jury verdict it is obligated to attempt to harmonize the jury's decision with the facts, and that if any interpretation of the admissible evidence will support the verdict it must be upheld (provided it does not contradict indisputable physical laws or facts).  Applying this test, the panel unanimously agreed that the jury's verdict was readily reconciled with the evidence, the pertinent statute, and the Standard Jury Instructions.

The Defendants also argued that the future damage award was unreasonable and constituted an illegal "sympathy" award to the Plaintiff, who suffers from muscular dystrophy.  The  Court rejected this claim, noting that Ross's attorney had done nothing improper during the trial to invoke sympathy or deflect the jury from applying the law, and that the award  was well within reason.   It noted, for example, that Ross was awarded income loss only to age 51, and that while he could not prove that his injuries prevented a contractor from employing him, there was evidence to show that his injuries prevented him from working.

Finally, the Defendants argued that their motion to set aside the judgment--which the trial court granted after their appeal was filed--should be upheld because they learned after filing their appeal that Ross had previously filed a separate action against Creative Controls, the company that substantially modified his van to accommodate his physical limitations and allegedly removed his airbag. On this point, the Court of Appeals noted that under the Court Rules, the lower court lacked jurisdiction to alter or set aside its judgment after the Defendants filed their appeal.   

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