In Swearinger v. Guajardo, the plaintiff was hurt when a truck driven by the defendant and owned by United Van Lines hit his car. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence and brought in the defendant’s employer under a theory of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment.
The jury found the defendant employee negligent and awarded the plaintiff damages for past physical pain and mental anguish, future physical pain and mental anguish, and past and future physical impairment. The defendant and his employer filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.
The defendant and the employer appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s damages award. The appellate court explained that it would sustain a no-evidence challenge on appeal when there is no evidence or only a scintilla of evidence to support a vital fact, the court is barred from giving weight to that evidence, or it conclusively establishes the opposite of the vital fact.
The appellate court explained that past and future physical pain, mental anguish, and physical impairment are all speculative damages that should be determined by a jury. It also explained that if a party challenges more than one award in overlapping categories of damages, it would consider the evidence related to the total awarded in the overlapping categories to see if that amount was excessive.
The employer argued that there was evidence to support an award for past physical pain and anguish, but there was not enough evidence to support the amount ($250,000). The appellate court noted that the process of awarding damages for amorphous injuries is subjective, and even if there were no direct evidence of pain, the jury could infer there was pain from the type of injury. However, evidence of a high degree of mental pain had to be more than worry.
The employer argued the evidence showed that the pain was over a limited time period. They also pointed out that the plaintiff hadn’t received an injection for back pain and that his neck pain disappeared a month after the accident. The court noted that the plaintiff hadn’t had any limitations on physical activity at the time of the accident, and that after the impact he was shocked, afraid, and had pain everywhere. He couldn’t take certain pain meds because they caused him to be sleepy. The pain was sometimes close to a 10 on a scale from 1 to 10. As a result of the accident, his relationship with his children was altered because he couldn’t carry them due to pain, and he’d stopped having sex or sleeping in the same bed with his wife because he was so uncomfortable. Prior to his accident, he received multiple awards for work performance, while afterward he received none.
The appellate court concluded the evidence was factually sufficient to support the past pain and mental anguish award. Relying partly on testimony from the plaintiff’s wife, it also found that the evidence related to the award for past physical impairment was also sufficient. The court explained that to recover for future damages, the plaintiff had to present evidence that it was reasonably probable he would suffer pain and anguish in the future. They found the evidence, largely testimony, was factually sufficient on this point as well.
It held the total amount of damages on the overlapping areas was not excessive and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
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