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Pabon v. GEICO Corp.

Superior Court of Delaware

August 23, 2017

IRAIDA PABON and DAVID JWANISIK, Plaintiffs,
v.
GEICO CORPORATION, Defendant.

          Submitted: August 22, 2017

          Ben T. Castle, Esquire

          Dawn L. Becker, Esquire

          Nicholas E. Skiles, Esquire

         TRIAL BY JURY DEMANDED

          Abigail M. LeGrow, Judge

         Upon Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Motion for a New Trial: DENIED

         1. This is a personal injury action in which the plaintiffs, a long-time couple, were involved in two car accidents. The drivers of the other vehicles were uninsured or underinsured. After a two-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, finding neither accident was the proximate cause of either plaintiffs injuries. The plaintiffs now have moved for judgment as a matter of law[1]and for a new trial. For the reasons that follow, both motions are denied.

          2. The plaintiffs, Iraida Pabon and David Jwanisik (the "Plaintiffs"), were involved in two motor vehicle accidents, one on November 26, 2011 and the second on August 26, 2012. At the time of the accidents, Ms. Pabon was insured by the defendant, GEICO Corporation ("GEICO"). GEICO denied Ms. Pabon's claim for injuries allegedly sustained in the November 2011 accident and Mr. Jwanisik's claim for injuries allegedly sustained in the August 2012 accident.[2] Plaintiffs thereafter brought suit against GEICO.

         3. The issues at trial revolved around both causation and damages. To prove their claims, Plaintiffs relied on their own testimony as well as their doctors' expert opinions. Ms. Pabon testified that she injured her right knee in the November 2011 accident, and Mr. Jwanisik testified that he injured his neck and back in the August 2012 accident. The jury also heard video deposition testimony of Dr. Mahoney, Mr. Jwanisik's treating chiropractor, and Dr. Raisis, Ms. Pabon's treating physician. Dr. Raisis testified that Ms. Pabon's knee problems causally were related to the November 26, 2011 accident, and Dr. Mahoney testified that Mr. Jwanisik will experience ongoing pain and require ongoing care to his neck and back as a result of the August 26, 2012 accident. GEICO's defense consisted of cross-examining Plaintiffs and their medical experts and submitting medical records into evidence. In other words, GEICO did not present its own expert on the contested issues of causation or damages.

         4. At the close of their case, Plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict on the proximate cause issue, contending the evidence presented as to causation uniformly showed that each Plaintiff suffered some injury in the accident for which damages were sought. The Court denied Plaintiffs' motion, finding GEICO solicited testimony on cross-examination that cast doubt on the experts' credibility, specifically that each expert did not have certain information available to him when he rendered his opinion.[3] That testimony was a sufficient evidentiary basis from which the jury could conclude that the experts' opinions were not reliable. As the experts' testimony was the only available evidence of causation, Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden. At the close of all the evidence, Plaintiffs did not renew their motion for a directed verdict, and the jury returned a verdict for GEICO, finding the automobile accidents were not a proximate cause of either Plaintiffs injuries.

         5. Plaintiffs now seek judgment as a matter of law under Superior Court Rule 50(b) and a new trial under Rule 59. Rule 50(b) states: "Whenever a motion for a judgment as a matter of law made at the close of all the evidence is denied or for any reason is not granted, . . . [s]uch a motion may be renewed by service and filing not later than 10 days after entry of judgment."[4] Plaintiffs did not so move at the close of all the evidence.[5] By failing to renew their motion for a directed verdict at the close of all the evidence, Plaintiffs failed to comply with Rule 50(b) and are unable to move for judgment as a matter of law at this time.[6] Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law is denied.

         6. Plaintiffs also have moved for a new trial under Rule 59. Plaintiffs argue the jury was not free to disregard the experts' medical testimony because all the experts agreed that Ms. Pabon and Mr. Jwanisik were injured in the November 26, 2011 and August 26, 2012 accidents, respectively. Plaintiffs rely on the Delaware Supreme Court's holding in Maier v. Santucci that "once the existence of an injury has been established as causally related to the accident, a jury is required to return a verdict of at least minimal damages."[7] Plaintiffs further argue that Christina School District v. Reuling[8] is dispositive here. In Reuling, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the lower court's direction of a verdict on proximate cause where the defendant presented no affirmative medical evidence contradicting the plaintiffs evidence.

         7. Although procedurally proper, the Motion for a New Trial is denied.[9]A jury's verdict is presumed correct, and the Court will not disturb the jury's conclusion "unless the evidence preponderates so heavily against the jury verdict that a reasonable juror could not have reached the result."[10] Determining witnesses' credibility is the exclusive province of the jury.[11] "It is settled law that, when an expert's opinion is based on a patient's subjective ...


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