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RICHARDSON v. BRAXTON-BAILEY (59788)


RICHARDSON

v.

BRAXTON-BAILEY


January 8, 1999
Record No. 980324

CRAIG RICHARDSON

v.

VALERIE BRAXTON-BAILEY

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND
Theodore J. Markow, Judge
Present: All the Justices
OPINION BY JUSTICE ELIZABETH B. LACY


Valerie Braxton-Bailey filed a motion for
judgment against Craig Richardson seeking $60,000 for injuries
that she allegedly sustained in an automobile accident caused by
Richardson’s negligence. Following a jury trial, the trial court
set aside a $3,265 verdict in favor of Braxton-Bailey, finding it
"inconsistent with the law and the evidence," and the
case was retried on the issue of damages only. The second trial
resulted in a jury verdict of $1,270, which the trial court also
set aside as "contrary to the evidence and law" and
"inadequate as a matter of law." Following a third
trial on damages alone, the trial court entered judgment on a
jury verdict in the amount of $35,000. Richardson appealed,
asserting that the first two verdicts were not inadequate as a
matter of law and that the third verdict was excessive as a
matter of law. We will reverse the judgment of the trial court
because we conclude that the trial court erred in setting aside
the first verdict.

In reviewing the trial court’s action in
setting aside the jury verdict of $3,265, we apply the following
familiar principles: (1) the amount of a verdict is within the
jury’s discretion, and when arrived at upon competent and proper
instructions, is inviolate, Taylor v. Maritime Overseas Corp.,
224 Va. 562, 567, 299 S.E.2d 340, 343 (1983); (2) when evaluating
the amount of the jury verdict, all reasonable inferences must be
drawn in favor of the verdict rendered, Hall v. Hall, 240
Va. 360, 363, 397 S.E.2d 829, 831 (1990); and (3) if, based on
the evidence, the jury was entitled to believe that only a
portion of the damages claimed were reasonably related to the
accident, then the verdict cannot be set aside by the trial court
as inadequate as a matter of law, Brown v. Huddleston, 213
Va. 146, 147, 191 S.E.2d 234, 235 (1972).

Braxton-Bailey was injured when Richardson
failed to stop at a red traffic signal, and his vehicle hit the
rear passenger side of Braxton-Bailey’s vehicle. The impact spun
her vehicle around, causing a flat rear tire. There was no other
damage to her vehicle.

The day after the accident, Braxton-Bailey,
complaining of soreness in her neck, shoulder blades, right
wrist, and right arm, went to see Dr. Leon J. Brown, Jr., a
doctor recommended by her attorney. Dr. Brown testified that
Braxton-Bailey’s injuries were caused by the accident. He also
testified that there were no objective symptoms of her injuries
and that his diagnosis was based solely on what Braxton-Bailey
told him. The injuries were muscular in nature, did not involve
nerve damage, and were not permanent. Dr. Brown treated
Braxton-Bailey with prescribed exercises, heat packs,
anti-inflammatory medication and electric stimulation over the
course of six weeks. Braxton-Bailey introduced medical bills of
$1,225 for Dr. Brown’s services and $45.59 for prescription
medications.

Dr. Brown testified that he initially
anticipated that Braxton-Bailey could return to her work as a
teacher approximately two weeks after the accident, but that
"additional problems" prevented her from doing so. He
testified that "on several occasions we tried to get her
back to work," but that she did not finally return to work
until five weeks after the accident. Braxton-Bailey asserted that
she incurred $5,905.20 in lost wages.

The jury’s verdict of $3,265 was clearly less
than the approximately $7,200 in special damages claimed by
Braxton-Bailey.
[1] In setting aside the verdict on the
basis that it was "inconsistent with the evidence and
law," the trial court did not disagree with the jury’s
obvious conclusion that only a portion of Braxton-Bailey’s
damages were reasonably related to the accident. The trial
court’s action was based on its belief that the amount awarded
reflected "an award of the medical expenses and two of the
five weeks claimed for lost wages" and that the jury thus
made "[n]o allowance" for the other damage elements
such as pain, suffering, and inconvenience which were contained
in the jury instructions. The trial court erred in setting aside
the verdict based on this assumption.

When the evidence permits a jury to conclude
that only some of the damages claimed resulted from the accident,
a verdict in an amount less than or approximating a portion of
the special damages does not justify the conclusion that the jury
failed to consider other damage elements such as pain, suffering,
and inconvenience. Walker v. Mason, 257 Va. ___, ___
S.E.2d ___ (1999)(this day decided); Doe v. West, 222 Va.
440, 446, 281 S.E.2d 850, 853 (1981). The quality of the evidence
is dispositive, not a comparison between the amount of the
verdict and the special damages claimed. See Doe v.
West
, 222 Va. at 446, 281 S.E.2d at 852-53. Based on this
record, we conclude that the jury was permitted to conclude that
not all the damages claimed by Braxton-Bailey were incurred as a
result of the accident. The verdict was not based upon an
unreasonable interpretation of the evidence; therefore, the trial
court erred in setting it aside.

Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of
the trial court, reinstate the jury verdict of $3,265 in favor of
Braxton-Bailey, and enter final judgment here on that verdict.

Reversed and final judgment.

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Counsel for Richardson stipulated that
the amounts claimed by Braxton-Bailey were incurred subsequent to
the accident; however, the record does not support the
conclusion, asserted by Braxton-Bailey, that Richardson’s counsel
agreed or stipulated that those damages were proximately caused
by the accident.

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