In Rizzuti v. Smith, an appellate court considered whether there was enough evidence to support the jury’s awards related to a plaintiff’s medical expenses and loss of a college tuition payment. The case arose when the defendant (Rizzuti) backed his car into the plaintiff (Smith), who was behind the car. Both the defendant and the plaintiff were with others who had been drinking at nearby bars. Somebody in Smith’s group observed the defendant back over the plaintiff and then move forward and run over the plaintiff another two times.
The plaintiff suffered many injuries and had to go through twelve surgeries. The biggest injury was from his dislocated left knee. At the time of his injuries, the plaintiff was going to junior college. He later claimed that his injuries stopped him from finishing the coursework for his spring semester, and that he lost $1500-$2000 in tuition because of the accident.
At trial, a jury determined that both the defendant and the plaintiff were negligent. However, it assigned 82% of the responsibility for the accident on the defendant and only 18% on the plaintiff. It also found the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent. It awarded the plaintiff $6000 for mental anguish and past pain, $3000 for future mental anguish and pain, $1500 for the loss of his tuition, and $112, 753.60 for his medical expenses, including the past surgeries. It determined that he hadn’t proved future medical expenses or impairment, and no punitive damages were awarded. The trial court’s final judgment was for $102,957.95.
The defendant appealed on the grounds that the evidence to support the past medical expenses and lost tuition awards was insufficient. The appellate court explained that evidence is considered sufficient when it allows reasonable, fair people to reach the verdict that is being reviewed. The court will credit any evidence that supports a verdict when reasonable jurors could do so, but will disregard evidence that reasonable jurors would disregard.
A defendant can win on this type of challenge if they can show a total lack of evidence to support a crucial fact, a legal rule stops the court from granting weight to a particular piece of evidence that is the only evidence to support a crucial fact, the evidence to support the crucial fact is not more than a scintilla, or the evidence shows the opposite of what the fact-finder found.
The defendant argued that the plaintiff should have called experts or presented a section 18.001 affidavit that proved his medical expenses. An affidavit regarding how much services cost and that they were needed is usually enough evidence to support a jury finding on this point. The appellate court explained that the trial court had admitted the plaintiff’s medical billing records, medical records and an exhibit summarizing the expenses. The defendant didn’t object at the time. The court ruled that the billing records that were admitted were more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the jury award.
The defendant also argued that the evidence to support the lost tuition was insufficient because no testimony had been provided that this was reasonable. The appellate court reasoned that the plaintiff hadn’t provided any testimony to suggest that the amount in question was a reasonable charge for the semester in the plaintiff’s college or associated with tuition generally. It explained that tuition costs isn’t a matter of general knowledge, so the amount paid couldn’t depend on a jury assessment based on personal experience. It found that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury award on this point.
The plaintiff also raised the issue that there was no evidence to support the finding he was negligent. For procedural reasons, however, this issue was not preserved for review.
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