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Copeland v. Compton


    Citation. Copeland v. Compton, 914 S.W.2d 378 (Mo. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 1996)

    Brief Fact Summary. Joe and Tracy Copeland (Plaintiffs) appeal from an adverse judgment entered pursuant to a jury verdict in their damage suit against Amy Nelson (Defendant) for her alleged negligent operation of an automobile. Defendant passed away after trial due to causes unrelated to the collision. A defendant ad litem, John Compton, took her place on appeal.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An appellate court interferes with a jury verdict only if there is a complete absence of probative facts to support a jury verdict. The reason for this rule is that the plaintiff bears the burden to prove that the defendant was negligent and that plaintiff’s injuries directly resulted from the defendant’s negligence. The sufficiency of the evidence to support a defendant’s verdict is not a question amenable to appellate review. In any action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant failed to perform that duty; and (3) the defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Liability is the conclusion when there is a duty, breach, and causal connection between the conduct of the defendant and the resulting injury to the plaintiff. The third element is frequently referred to as “actual damages”. The plaintiff, who proves that the defendant’s conduct was negligent but fai
    ls to show what actual damage resulted from it, will lose the case.

    Facts. On April 26, 1993, automobiles operated by Mr. Copeland and Defendant collided with each other on the streets of Springfield, Missouri. Mr. Copeland was traveling along Sunshine Street when Defendant, who had been stopped at a stop sign on Woodward Street, attempted to cross Sunshine to reach a supermarket on the other side. Defendant did not see Mr. Copeland when she pulled out and, although he swerved, he was unable to avoid the collision.
    The policeman who investigated the accident testified at trial that there were no skid marks indicating that Mr. Copeland was traveling at an excessive rate of speed. He also testified that he issued Defendant a ticket for failure to yield the right-of-way.

    Issue. Did the trial court err in denying Plaintiff’s Motion for a New Trial?
    * Did Plaintiffs meet their burden to prove that the Defendant was negligent and that their injuries directly resulted from Defendant’s negligence? In other words, was Defendant’s action the cause in fact of Plaintiffs’ injuries?

    Held. The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court holding that it will interfere with a jury verdict only if there is a complete absence of probative facts to support a jury verdict.
    * At trial, the evidence showed that Plaintiff had suffered from chronic and severe neck pain for many years before the accident. Therefore, no conclusion of Defendant’s liability could be made since there was no causal connection between the Defendant’s conduct and the Plaintiffs’ resulting injury.

    Discussion. In any action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant failed to perform that duty; and (3) the defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Liability is the conclusion when there is a duty, breach, and causal connection between the conduct of the defendant and the resulting injury to the plaintiff.
    * In their first two points, plaintiffs charged that there was a complete absence of probative facts to support the jury’s verdict that defendant was not liable and, consequently, that the trial court erred and abused its discretion in denying their motion for a new trial on that basis. In their third point, plaintiffs contended that the trial court committed prejudicial error when it excluded the term “policyholder” from plaintiffs’ “insurance question” during voir dire.
    * On appeal, the court determined that it disagreed with plaintiffs’ first two points and found that plaintiffs did not preserve their third point for review. An appellate court interferes with a jury verdict only if there is a complete absence of probative facts to support a jury verdict. The reason for this rule is that the plaintiff bears the burden to prove that the defendant was negligent and that plaintiff’s injuries directly resulted from the defendant’s negligence. The sufficiency of the evidence to support a defendant’s verdict is not a question amenable to appellate review.
    * Here, the court concluded that the record contained probative facts to support a jury verdict for defendant. The court determined that the jury was entitled to believe that the injuries of plaintiff did not directly result from defendant’s negligence, as plaintiff had suffered from chronic and severe neck pain for many years before the accident. The court found that the jury was not overcome by bias and prejudice, and that the trial court did not err in denying plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.


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