Where defendants who were found liable for their roles in a detainee’s wrongful death argued the verdict was against the weight of the evidence or was the result of other errors during the trial, their post-trial motions were denied.
Robert Boley, a detainee at Deerfield Men’s Work Center, was found dead in his cell from a ruptured aortic aneurism. His brother and beneficiary, James Boley sued Emmanuel Bynum and Joel Guy, both correctional officers at the facility, and against Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., Dr. Alvin Harris and Arleathia Peck, LPN.
Following a five-day jury trial, the jury found for plaintiff on plaintiff’s negligence and gross negligence claims against Peck, for which Armor was vicariously liable, and on plaintiff’s gross negligence claim against Bynum. Now before the court are post-trial motions filed by Bynum, Armor and Peck.
Bynum contends that plaintiff failed to present evidence that was legally sufficient to carry the burden of proving gross negligence. The court finds that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence such that persons of reasonable minds could determine that Bynum was grossly negligent. Multiple witnesses testified that Bynum was aware of Boley’s condition, acknowledged its severity and demonstrated indifference to Boley’s immediate medical needs. While defendant presented viable evidence to the contrary, plaintiff presented sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably reach a conclusion in its favor, as it ultimately did.
Bynum argues that the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence, and that allowing the verdict to stand would result in a miscarriage of justice. Further, Bynum argues, the time limits on the questioning of witness that the court imposed on defense counsel mid-trial resulted in a disproportionate presentation of the evidence, and several of plaintiff’s counsel’s statements in his closing were improper. Taken together, Bynum argues, these circumstances resulted in an award of excessive damages.
The court does not agree with Bynum that the weight of the evidence, the court’s imposition of time limits or any purported inappropriate statements by plaintiff’s counsel warrant a new trial. The court recognizes that the jury award of $4,000,000 is substantial but declines to find that the award is so excessive as to shock the conscious of the court.
Under Virginia Code § 8.01-35.1, the amount recovered against one tortfeasor shall be reduced by the amount paid in settlement by another tortfeasor. Bynum is entitled to the settlement set-off of $250,000, the settlement figure paid by then-defendant NurseSpring.
Peck seeks judgment as a matter of law because “Plaintiff failed to present any evidence that Nurse Peck’s alleged breach of the standard of care was a proximate cause of Boley’s death.” But a Rule 50(b) motion is a renewal of a motion made pursuant to Rule 50(a) and must be based upon the particular grounds raised at the close of evidence in the party’s Rule 50(a) motion.
Here, counsel for Peck did make an oral Rule 50(a) motion following the conclusion of plaintiff’s case-in-chief, but now raises its Rule 50(b) motion on different and additional grounds. The court cannot now consider the substance of defendant’s new arguments. Moreover, affording plaintiff the benefit of all possible inferences, as is appropriate at the Rule 50 stage, a reasonable jury could infer from the events of the day that if Peck would have properly cared for Boley, he would have been immediately evaluated and referred for appropriate medical care.
Peck also asserts that the jury was likely swayed by improper character evidence presented during the trial about Peck’s alleged lack of caring about her work. The court agrees with plaintiff that the nature of the comments heard by the jury were not so prejudicial as to make the court’s curative instruction insufficient.
However the court incorrectly and inappropriately dated its amended judgment “January 13, 2023 Nunc Pro Tunc: December 9, 2022,” although it was not the intention of the court or any party to modify the jury’s verdict declining to award prejudgment interest. The court will issue a separate order correcting its judgment to that effect.
Emmanuel Bynum’s renewed motion for judgment or new trial denied. Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc.’s and Nurse Arleathia Peck’s renewed motion for judgment or new trial denied. Armor and Peck’s motion to alter, amend or correct judgment granted.
Boley v. Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., Case No. 2:21-cv-197, April 5, 2023. EDVA at Norfolk (Young). VLW 023-3-187. 33 pp.