Reversal: Jury instruction on man’s failure to mitigate damages was error

A man who claimed a semi-truck driver and the driver’s employer caused him personal injuries after an interstate collision will receive a new damages trial after the Indiana Court of Appeals found that an instruction given to the jury on the man’s failure to mitigate his damages was erroneous.

Patrick Humphrey began experiencing pain in his left eye after his vehicle had collided with a semi-tractor trailer earlier in the day on Feb. 7, 2016. There was a crack on his windshield where the trailer had hit his car, and later that day, Humphrey found a sliver of glass in his eye.

When his vision started changing, Humphrey sought medical attention, and an MRI scan found a tumor on his pituitary gland. However, the tumor was found to be a preexisting condition at the time of the collision.

The tumor was removed in surgery, and Humphrey was prescribed medication that he eventually stopped taking because he couldn’t afford it and because it caused him to be ill. He then became lethargic and gained weight and continued to experience vision problems.

Humphrey sued the truck driver, Brian Tuck, and his employer, U.S. Xpress Inc., alleging their negligence caused his personal injuries. U.S. Xpress aruged Humphrey had failed to mitigate his damages because he had not taken his medication as prescribed and because he had never gotten eyeglasses that had been prescribed for him. It also proffered an instruction to the jury on a plaintiff’s duty to mitigate damages, which Humphrey unsuccessfully objected to. Humphrey was ultimately awarded $40,000 in damages.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding insufficient evidence to support giving the instruction to the jury in Patrick Humphrey v. U.S. Xpress, Inc., et al., 19A-CT-721. Specifically, the COA found that U.S. Xpress could not point to evidence showing Humphrey’s failure to follow his doctor’s orders caused him to suffer a “continuance of symptoms” for any specified period of time, or that his symptoms were exacerbated in any way.

The panel also found U.S. Xpress did not show that Humphrey’s failure to get the eyeglasses prescription filled caused him any discrete harm. Thus, the Jackson Superior Court erred in its instruction of they jury on Humphrey’s failure to mitigate his damages, the appellate court ruled.

“Here, the jury award was a general verdict, and, thus, the erroneous instruction ‘could have formed the basis for’ that verdict,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court. “Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial on damages only.”

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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