In re State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
Fort Worth Court of Appeals, No. 153-258960-12 (January 26, 2016)
Chief Justice Livingston and Justices Gardner (Opinion) and Gabriel
The Fort Worth Court of Appeals granted mandamus to set aside a new-trial order, applying the new standards laid down by the Texas Supreme Court in Toyota Motor Sales and United Scaffolding. After a fender bender with an underinsured driver, Scott Newell asked his insurer, State Farm, to pay under its underinsured motorist coverage for neck surgery, significant pain, and other injuries he attributed to the accident. State Farm paid part of his claim, and he received some compensation from the other driver’s insurer. Unsatisfied, Newell sued State Farm for additional damages. After trial, the jury awarded Newell $198 for treatment he received at a walk-in clinic the day after the accident, but nothing for the surgery or other medical expenses. The jury also awarded no damages for physical pain, impairment, mental anguish, or lost wages. Because the damage award was more than offset by money Newell had already received from the insurers, the trial court entered a take-nothing judgment. Newell filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court granted, on the ground that the jury’s finding that Newell incurred no compensable pain and suffering was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence and manifestly unjust in light of the jury’s finding that he had sustained a physical injury in the accident.
State Farm sought mandamus to set aside the new trial order. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals noted that Supreme Court requires that the trial court’s order articulate clear, facially valid reasons to set aside the jury’s verdict, and that those reasons be supported by the record. The appellate court held the lower court’s order satisfied the first prong; it provided an understandable, reasonably specific, and facially sound reason for setting aside the jury’s verdict. The second prong, whether the trial court’s stated reasons were correct, required reviewing the entire record under a factual sufficiency analysis. The Court of Appeals noted, “Matters of pain and suffering are necessarily speculative, and it is particularly within the jury’s province to resolve these matters and decide the amounts attributable thereto.” After analyzing the conflicting medical opinions and evidence of Newell’s previous medical treatment and activities following the accident, the Court of Appeals held the jury could reasonably have found he had not suffered ongoing pain caused by the accident. The trial court’s reasons for granting the motion for new trial were therefore invalid, and it was directed to reinstate the original take-nothing judgment.