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Sharrow v. Roy

September 23, 2009

YVONNE SHARROW, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JULES ROY, DEFENDANT.
ING INSURANCE COMPANY OF CANADA A/S/O JULES ROY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
YVONNE SHARROW, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff/Defendant Yvonne Sharrow's Motion for New Trial. (Doc. 90.) I will deny the motion because there was sufficient evidence to support of the verdict, any error in the jury instructions was not highly prejudicial, and the expert and lay opinion testimony was properly admitted.This Court has jurisdiction over the action according to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (diversity jurisdiction).

BACKGROUND

This case arises from a motor vehicle accident on June 4, 2006 at the intersection of State Route 93 and Old Berwick Road in Sugarloaf Township, Pennsylvania. Defendant Jules Roy ("Roy") approached the intersection first, towing a trailer along Old Berwick Road. At the intersection from Roy's direction of travel there was a stop sign. Roy alleges that he stopped at the sign, then proceeded to cross the intersection. A third party witness, Kathleen Kerns, stated that Roy did not stop, or at least did not stop completely. While crossing the intersection, a second vehicle driven by Yvonne Sharrow ("Sharrow") approached coming down Route 93. Allegedly, Sharrow approached the intersection at a rate of speed estimated to be up to eighty (80) miles per hour while the speed limit was fifty-five (55) miles per hour. Sharrow's vehicle collided with the Roy's trailer, causing the trailer to overturn.

Sharrow filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on January 10, 2008. Her action was consolidated with the one brought by ING Insurance Company of Canada because of the similar fact questions at issue. A trial on the merits of this case begin April 13, 2009. On April 17, 2009, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Roy, finding that Roy was not negligent. Because of this verdict, the jury did not reach questions of comparative negligence or damages.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 59(a), motions for a new trial must be filed within ten days of the date the judgment was entered. SeeFED. R. CIV. P. 59. The decision to grant a new trial is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. See Blackiston v. Johnson, No. 91-5111, 1995 WL 563834, at *1 (E.D. Pa. 1995), aff'd 91 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 1996), cert. denied 519 U.S. 953 (1996). Courts have granted motions for a new trial where: (1) there is a significant error of law, to the prejudice of the moving party; (2) the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; (3) the size of the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; or (4) counsel engaged in improper conduct that had a prejudicial effect on the jury. See Maylie v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 791 F. Supp. 477, 480 (E.D. Pa.), aff'd 983 F.2d 1051 (3d Cir. 1992). Where the evidence is in conflict and subject to two or more interpretations, the trial judge should be reluctant to grant a new trial. See Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1295 (3d Cir. 1993).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff raises three separate grounds for a new trial: (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, (2) this Court failed to provide an appropriate negligence per se jury instruction, and (3) the expert opinion evidence of Steven Rickard ("Rickard") and the lay opinion evidence of Roy was improperly admitted.

I. Verdict Against the Weight of the Evidence

Plaintiff first argues that the Court should grant a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. I disagree. "New trials because the verdict is against the weight of the evidence are proper only when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience." Greenleaf, 174 F.3d at 366 (quoting Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991)). The record demonstrates that there was sufficient evidence to create several factual questions which could have reasonably been decided in Roy's favor. In particular, there were evidentiary questions of whether: (1) Roy stopped at the stop sign, (2) Roy properly checked for oncoming traffic, and (3) Sharrowed approach the intersection too rapidly. There was evidence which supported the jury's verdict that Sharrow's conduct, rather than Roy's conduct, caused the accident. The record does not demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice occurred in this case.

Sharrow also argues that the jury did not take sufficient time to deliberate, particularly when they returned a verdict ten (10) minutes after asking the court about the relationship between intent and negligence. There is no reason to believe, however, that the two hours of deliberations were insufficient to examine the issues in this case. This was a relatively straight-forward case about appropriate conduct while driving, a standard to which many of the jurors could relate, and about weighing the credibility of the evidence presented. See Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. v. Schering-Plough Corp., 166 F. Supp.2d 19, 41 (D. N.J. 2001) (declining a new trial where jury deliberated for two hours after seventeen days of complex scientific evidence). I find that the jury's verdict was not against the weight of the evidence.Sharrow's motion for a new trial on this issue will be denied.

II. Failure to Provide Negligence Per Se Instruction

Sharrow next contends that the failure to provide a negligence per se instruction provides grounds for a new trial.For any error of law the moving party must demonstrate that there was a significant error of law, and that this error was prejudicial. See Maylie v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger ...


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