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Denman v. Spain

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Denman (Plaintiff), sued the Defendant, the Ross estate (Defendant), for personal injuries suffered by Plaintiff due to Defendant’s negligent driving in a car accident. The jury found for Plaintiff, however on Defendant’s motion, the judge granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in Defendant’s favor.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A finding of judgment notwithstanding the verdict is correct in cases where the original jury verdict is based on speculative facts.

    Facts. Plaintiff, a minor, was driving with her grandmother when their car was involved in a fatal head on accident with the Defendant’s vehicle. Plaintiff survived and sued the deceased Defendant’s estate claiming his negligent operation of his vehicle caused her personal injuries. At trial, Plaintiff offered photographs of the damaged vehicles and the testimony of two witnesses. Both witnesses claimed they saw Defendant driving at a high rate of speed, but that to their knowledge he was on the correct side of the road. There were no eyewitnesses to the actual accident, as the survivors could not remember the accident details. Plaintiff claimed it could be inferred that the accident would not have happened, but for the negligent manner in which Defendant drove his car, compounded with the bad weather and his excessive driving speed. The jury came back with a verdict for the Plaintiff and awarded her $5,000. Defendant moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and was granted i
    t.

    Issue. Whether the trial correct correctly granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in Defendant’s favor based on Plaintiff’s evidentiary showing.

    Held. Yes. There was no sound or reasonable basis upon which a jury or this Court can say that the Plaintiff met her burden of proof.

    Discussion. It was the Plaintiff’s burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant was guilty of negligence and that such negligence was the proximate cause or contributing factor to the accident and resulting damage. The conclusion that the Plaintiff reached was based on speculation because the details of the accident were unknown to everybody. Therefore, a finding of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict was correct because a jury could not have thoroughly based a verdict on speculative facts such as these.


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