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Rumanek v. Coons

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

September 13, 2013

SANDRA RUMANEK, Plaintiff,
v.
MARGARET COONS AND THERESA THEODORE, Defendants.

Date Submitted: July 11, 2013

Upon Consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial.

Joseph J. Rhoades, Esquire, LAW OFFICES OF JOSEPH J. RHOADES, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Plaintiff Sandra Rumanek.

Louis J. Rizzo, Jr., Esquire, REGER RIZZO & DARNALL, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Defendant Margaret Coons.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Charles E. Butler, Judge

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for a new trial based on the following allegations: (1) the jury's verdict was against the great weight of evidence; (2) comments from counsel's closing statement improperly influenced the jury; and (3) the Court's explanatory instruction regarding plaintiff's EEOC "right to sue" letter from her pending retaliation claim improperly influenced the jury. For the reasons set for below, plaintiff's motion is hereby DENIED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2009, Sandra Rumanek ("plaintiff") was stopped in the right turn lane on Montchanin Road at the intersection of Montchanin Road and Route 141. While stopped, plaintiff was struck from behind by a car driven by Margaret Coons ("defendant"). The severity of the strike was in evidence, as were photographs of the automobiles in question, depicting only modest damage to each of the respective vehicles. Plaintiff testified that the minor collision shocked her and caused her to jolt, but denied that her head actually contacted any part of the vehicle. Pointedly, defendant took a photograph of plaintiff standing outside her vehicle shortly afterwards using her cell phone to make a call.

Plaintiff also claimed injury from a subsequent accident on November 20, 2009, in which she was involved in a low speed collision with another vehicle in a parking lot. Although this later case resolved before trial, the jury was permitted to hear about it because it bore upon plaintiff's injuries and the relative liabilities of the two separate alleged tortfeasors. At trial, plaintiff claimed it was the initial collision with defendant that caused plaintiff to suffer a closed head injury, resulting in difficulty with memory, anxiety, depression, cognitive function, and multitasking.

At trial, plaintiff's injuries and their genesis were hotly contested. To support her claim of a closed head injury, plaintiff produced three healthcare experts; but they admitted that their testimony was largely based on the subjective reporting of plaintiff.

At the end of the trial, the jury determined that 1) defendant negligently caused the motor vehicle accident, 2) the driver in the subsequent parking lot collision, which settled pretrial, was not negligent, and 3) plaintiff should be awarded $1 in damages.

Plaintiff now seeks a new trial, arguing that the damages award ought to shock the Court's conscience and that two evidentiary rulings made during the trial prejudiced her case. The ...


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