United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
ROSE MARY SMITH, et al. PLAINTIFFS
STARR INDEMNITY & LIABILITY COMPANY DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
reasons provided below, the Court denies
Plaintiffs' Motion for a New Trial .
an insurance dispute. Plaintiff Rose Mary Smith was in an
automobile accident caused by an uninsured motorist. At the
time of the accident, Smith was insured under an insurance
policy issued by Defendant, Starr Indemnity & Liability
Company, which provided up to $1, 000, 000.00 in uninsured
motorist coverage. Defendant did not dispute coverage.
Rather, it disputed the amount of Smith's injuries caused
by the accident.
Court held a three-day jury trial. Plaintiffs sought payment
for Rose Mary Smith's physical injuries and medical
bills, Rodney Smith's loss of consortium, and economic
losses in Plaintiffs' business. During closing argument,
Plaintiffs' counsel asked the jury to award Plaintiffs
$5, 000, 000.00 in damages. The jury awarded Plaintiffs $37,
000.00 - $12, 000.00 for Rose Mary Smith's past medical
bills, $25, 000.00 for Rose Mary Smith's noneconomic
damages, and nothing for her future medical bills, her lost
wages, and her husband's loss of consortium. See
Jury Verdict, Smith v. Starr Ind. & Liab. Co.,
No. 2:17-CV-164-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. May 6, 2019), ECF No. 80.
Unsatisfied with the verdict, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for
New Trial , which the Court now addresses.
provides that the “court may, on motion, grant a new
trial on all or some of the issues - and to any party - as
follows: (A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a
new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in
federal court . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1).
Plaintiffs made two arguments in favor of their motion.
Plaintiffs argue that the jury's verdict was against the
weight of the evidence because the jury
“obviously” based their verdict on the testimony
of Defendant's expert, Dr. David Gandy, which Plaintiffs
contend was flawed in several respects. “A trial court
should not grant a new trial on evidentiary grounds unless
the verdict is against the great weight of the
evidence.” Pryor v. Trane Co., 138 F.3d 1024,
1026 (5th Cir. 1998). The Court “must affirm the
verdict unless the evidence - viewed in the light most
favorable to the jury's verdict - points so strongly and
overwhelmingly in favor of one party that the court believes
that reasonable men could not arrive at a contrary
conclusion.” Id. (punctuation and citations
argument rests upon an erroneous assumption. Plaintiffs
assume that the jury must have credited Dr. Gandy's
testimony, arguing that there is no other explanation for the
verdict. To the contrary, the jury could have simply
disbelieved Plaintiffs and their witnesses. Plaintiffs had
the burden of proving the amount of their damages caused by
the accident. Architex Ass'n, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins.
Co., 27 So.3d 1148, 1157 (Miss. 2010) (“The burden
of proving coverage rests with the insured.”). The jury
has sole discretion to credit or discredit any evidence as it
deems appropriate. Montano v. Orange County, Tex.,
842 F.3d 865, 874 (5th Cir. 2016). Therefore, the jury could
have rejected Plaintiffs' $5, 000, 000.00 demand because
they did not find Plaintiffs' evidence credible.
if the jury credited Dr. Gandy's testimony, that was
their prerogative. Id. Plaintiffs filed no motions
challenging Gandy's qualifications or the relevancy or
reliability of his testimony. See Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Plaintiffs cross-examined Gandy. They argued in closing that
the jury should disregard Gandy's testimony. Plaintiffs
have not identified any erroneous or prejudicial ruling by
the Court related to Gandy's testimony. In fact,
Plaintiffs made no contemporaneous objection to Gandy's
testimony. Moreover, they had a chance to present a rebuttal
witness to his testimony but chose not to do so.
persons could believe Dr. Gandy's testimony and conclude,
based on all the evidence presented at trial, that Plaintiffs
were only entitled to $37, 000.00. Likewise, reasonable
persons could disbelieve much of Plaintiffs' evidence and
conclude that they were only entitled to $37, 000.00. All the
nits that Plaintiffs picked out of Gandy's testimony were
fodder for cross-examination and closing argument, rather
than grounds for exclusion or granting a new trial. Bottom
line: Plaintiffs have not provided the Court with any basis
to conclude that the jury's verdict was against the great
weight of the evidence.
also argue that the Court should grant them a new trial
because Juror No. 1's husband is employed by First South
Farm Credit Company and was “actively involved in
negotiations with [Plaintiff Rose Mary Smith] in determining
whether First South Farm Credit would purchase an office
owned by [Smith] in Jones County, Mississippi, ” and
“the negotiations resulted in his company purchasing
the property.” Exhibit B to Motion at 1, Smith v.
Starr Ind. & Liab. Co., No. 2:17-CV-164-KS-MTP
(S.D.Miss. May 24, 2019), ECF No. 81-2. Smith claims that she
“was not aware of the family relationship at the time
that the jury was questioned and, therefore, was not aware of
the prior dealings” with Juror No. 1's husband.
voir dire, Juror No. 1 identified herself by name
and stated where she lived and what she did for a living. She
also identified her husband by name and stated that he worked
for First South Farm Credit. Later, the Court asked the panel
if anyone knew the Plaintiffs, was related to them, or had
any sort of connection to them or their business. Juror No. 1
did not respond affirmatively to the Court's question.
Later, in chambers, Plaintiffs did not challenge Juror No. 1
for cause or use a peremptory challenge to strike her from
obtain a new trial, Plaintiffs “must first demonstrate
that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question on
voir dire, and then further show that a correct
response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge
for cause. The motives for concealing information may vary,
but only those reasons that affect a juror's impartiality
can truly be said to affect the fairness of a trial.”
McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S.
548, 556, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984). Therefore,
“[e]ven when a juror's non-disclosure is dishonest
as opposed to mistaken, his behavior is not a basis for
reversal unless the dishonesty appears to be rooted in bias
or prejudice.” United States v. Bishop, 264
F.3d 535, 555 (5th Cir. 2001). “[A] finding of juror
bias is based upon ...