Court upholds modest verdict for back injury and imposition of case evaluation sanctions
Richard Geerdes sued Deborah Jean Glupker for injuries he sustained when Glupker rear-ended him at a red light. The case was filed in 2002 and tried in the Kent County Circuit Court. After that trial, there was an appeal in which the Court of Appeals confirmed that Geerdes had suffered a "serious impairment of a bodily function" as a matter of law. He was suffering from radiculopathy as a result of a spinal injury.
The case was returned to Kent County, where it was tried for a second time and resulted in a verdict for $50,000.00 in damages. Glupker's insurer appealed this outcome, arguing that the jury should have been instructed that Geerdes must prove that the wreck was THE cause, rather than A CAUSE of his radiculopathy. The Court of Appeals held that the lower court had properly instructed the jury and that Glupker's attorneys were attempting to re-fight the battle that they lost in the prior appeal.
Glupker's insurer also appealed the award of case evaluation sanctions based on its rejection of a recommended settlement prior to the first trial. The insurer claimed that the two trials were not caused by its rejection of the evaluation, but rather by the mistakes of others. The Court of Appeals summarily rejected this argument, pointing out the underlying intention of the Case Evaluation procedure: if one pary rejects, they necessitate a trial and take the risk of paying the resulting expense sanctions.
Finally, the insurer objected to the plaintiff attorney's compilation of costs and fees in computing the case evaluation sanctions. The Court noted that when the defendant disputed the attorney's $275 hourly fee, the lower court should have evaluated a number of factors, including the typical hourly fee in Kent County for similar work. Since the lower court hadn't engaged in that analysis, the fee dispute will have to be sorted out in an evidentiary hearing. In addition, some of the expenses taxed by the plaintiff were not sufficiently explained on the court record and must be re-evaluated or further documented by the plaintiff in the lower court.