United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS'
MOTIONS  FOR NEW TRIAL
SULEYMAN OZERDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
THE COURT are the Motion  for New Trial filed by
Defendant Lamorak Insurance Company f/k/a One Beacon America
Insurance Company (“Lamorak”) and the Motion
 for New Trial filed by Defendant Government Employees
Insurance Company (“GEICO”). In this case,
Plaintiff Ronald Stafford (“Stafford”) sued
Lamorak and GEICO for injuries and damages arising out of a
motor vehicle accident that occurred on September 13, 2012. A
jury awarded Stafford $1, 222, 314.93 in damages. Verdict
Motions  now before the Court, Defendants contend
that the jury's findings are against the overwhelming
weight of the evidence and that this Court erred in excluding
evidence that Stafford had filed another lawsuit regarding a
second car accident that occurred on July 9, 2014. Based upon
its review of the record and relevant legal authority, the
Court finds that both Motions  should be denied.
September 10, 2015, Stafford filed a Complaint [1-2] in the
Circuit Court of Pearl River County, Mississippi, alleging
that he was injured as a result of a motor vehicle collision
that took place on September 13, 2012. See Compl.
[1-2]. The case was removed to this Court on November 11,
2015, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Not. of Removal
. According to the Complaint, on September 13, 2012,
Stafford was driving a vehicle owned by his employer, Pearl
River County, Mississippi, when he was rear-ended by another
vehicle. Compl. [1-2] at 3. At the time of this collision,
Stafford was the owner of an underinsured motorist policy
issued by GEICO. Id. at 4. The County vehicle
Stafford was driving was insured by Lamorak, whose policy
also included underinsured motorist coverage. Id.
Stafford sought to recover underinsured motorist coverage
benefits from both GEICO and Lamorak. Id. at 5-6. Of
relevance here, Stafford later filed a second lawsuit in the
Circuit Court of Pearl River County, Mississippi, in relation
to a different vehicle accident that occurred on July 9,
2014, in which he allegedly sustained an aggravation of the
lumbar and cervical spine conditions he experienced as a
result of the September 13, 2012 collision which forms the
basis of this lawsuit. Order  at 8.
trial, Stafford filed a First Motion  in Limine, in which
he sought to preclude any evidence, testimony, or argument
referring to any other lawsuit, including the lawsuit related
to Stafford's July 9, 2014 motor vehicle accident. Mot.
 at 1-2. Stafford contended that such evidence should be
excluded under either Federal Rule of Evidence 402, because
it was irrelevant to the instant litigation, or Rule 403
because, even if relevant, its probative value was
substantially outweighed by the risks of unfair prejudice,
confusion of the issues, and misleading the jury. Pl.'s
Mem.  at 5. Stafford conceded that “mentioning the
second accident may be unavoidable in this case[.]”
Order entered on July 26, 2017, this Court found “that
evidence that the other lawsuit was filed by Plaintiff in
relation to the vehicle accident that occurred in July 2014
is not relevant to the instant litigation and could mislead
or confuse the jury and unduly prejudice Plaintiff.”
Order  at 9 (citing Vance v. Union Planters
Corp., 209 F.3d 438, 445 (5th Cir. 2000)). The Court
prohibited the parties “from introducing evidence that
Plaintiff has filed a second lawsuit, ” but noted that
“statements made by Plaintiff in the second lawsuit may
be relevant for impeachment purposes, to the extent that any
statements he made in that litigation are inconsistent with
statements he might make during this trial.”
The Jury Trial
case proceeded to a jury trial beginning on August 8, 2017,
and concluding on August 10, 2017. Judgment  at 1. At
trial, Stafford offered the video deposition testimony of his
medical expert, Dr. Michael Patterson. Dr. Patterson
testified that Stafford suffered from preexisting
“degenerative conditions in his neck.” Patterson
Dep. [140-1]. Dr. Patterson opined that “the first
accident seemed to be the most important one” because
Stafford “was able to perform a fairly vigorous . . .
job prior to the accident and that changed dramatically
afterwards and never improved[.]” Id. After
the first accident, Dr. Patterson restricted the weight
Stafford could lift at work. See Patterson Dep.
[140-2]. Dr. Patterson conducted an evaluation of Stafford on
August 7, 2014. Patterson Dep. [139-8]. During this
evaluation, Stafford informed Dr. Patterson that he was
involved in a second accident on July 9, 2014, and complained
of back pain, neck pain, and headaches. Id. Dr.
Patterson stated that it seemed the second accident
“further worsened” Stafford's neck and low
back pain and “worsened things in general, ”
id., however, in his view the July 9, 2014 accident
did not have any impact on the lifting restrictions he had
already placed upon Stafford after the September 13, 2012
accident. Patterson Dep. [139-4].
Lumpkin, the County Administrator for Pearl River County,
testified that Stafford was on full, unrestricted work duty
prior to the first accident, but had to be accommodated for
light duty work after the accident. Pl.'s Mem.  at
6; Def.'s Mem.  at 8. Stafford's economic
expert, Dr. Boudreaux, testified that Stafford's actual
economic damages were between $488, 259.55 and $539, 468.21,
depending upon his retirement age. Boudreaux Trial Tr.
[139-3]. Defendants did not introduce evidence to rebut
Boudreaux's testimony, nor did they call their own
testified to the jury regarding his second accident, stating
that on July 9, 2014, he was rear-ended by a freight truck,
Stafford Trial Tr. [139-5], and that as a result of the
second accident he suffered increased pain in his neck and
back, id. According to Stafford, he returned to Dr.
Patterson for medical care after the second accident.
Id. Finally, Stafford's vocational
rehabilitation expert, Ty Pennington, opined that Stafford
suffered an almost complete loss of the possibility of
returning to his usual employment. See Stewart Trial
called its own vocational rehabilitation expert, David
Stewart, who testified that he disagreed with Mr.
Pennington's opinion. Id. At the close of the
evidence, the Court's instructions to the jury included
Jury Instruction 13, which stated:
Plaintiff is not entitled to damages from Defendants for any
injuries which existed prior to the accident on September 13,
2012. If you find that the September 13, 2012, accident
caused any aggravation of any preexisting injury of Plaintiff
Ronald Stafford's, Defendants bear the responsibility for
the portion of the injury or the aggravation of the injury
that the September 13, 2012, accident caused. Where you the
members of the jury cannot apportion the damages between
Plaintiff's preexisting condition and the September 13,
2012, accident, then in that case Defendants may be liable
for the whole amount of damages on the basis that one who
injures another suffering from a preexisting condition is
liable for the entire damage when ...