BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) - The Idaho Supreme Court last week mostly upheld a ruling against a tire company that was found negligent for a family's car accident.
On Friday, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part an Ada County District Court decision against Boise Tire Co.
Jose and Nayeli Carrillo, father and daughter, sued the company, alleging that it improperly performed a tire rotation on their vehicle and that as a result, the Carrillos and Marisela Lycan, Jose's partner and Nayeli's mother, were in an accident.
Marisela was killed, Jose was injured and 18-month-old Nayeli underwent testing that revealed she suffered no physical injuries.
In their suit, filed against Boise Tire in October 2007, the Carrillos alleged negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.
A jury agreed with the Carrillos that Boise Tire's conduct was reckless.
It awarded Jose $401,950 in economic damages and $688,128 in noneconomic damages for his personal injury claim, and Nayeli $43,122 in economic and $1 million in noneconomic damages for her personal injury claim.
It also awarded $366,800 in economic and $1 million in noneconomic damages on the Carrillos' wrongful death claim.
Boise Tire, in turn, moved for a new trial on the grounds that the Carrillos' pleadings merely alleged negligence and therefore the court committed legal error by permitting them to argue that the company's conduct was reckless; the jury verdict was excessive and the result of passion or prejudice; and the jury verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence.
The district court partially granted Boise Tire's request for remittitur, reducing Nayeli's recovery for noneconomic damages to $250,000 on her personal injury claim, determining that "in light of (her) lack of long-lasting physical injuries," the jury's $1 million award was excessive.
It otherwise denied the company's motion.
On appeal to the state's high court, Boise Tire argued that denial, as well as the court's holding that Idaho Code, Section 6-1606, did not require the Carrillos' damage awards to be reduced by the subrogation interest transferred from their insurer to their attorney, nor by social security benefits obtained by the Carrillos.
Justice Joel D. Horton, who authored the Court's 18-page ruling, said the district court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that sufficient evidence supported the jury verdict and that the verdict was not the result of passion or prejudice.
"Boise Tire contends that where emotional distress is caused by merely negligent conduct, such distress is only compensable if there is proof of physical injury or manifestation of the emotional distress, and that the district court here erred because the record lacked sufficient proof that Nayeli experienced any physical manifestation of emotional distress," Horton explained.
"We affirm the district court's denial of the motion for new trial, conditioned upon the Carrillos' acceptance of a reduced noneconomic damage award on Nayeli's claim. We hold that, in the instance of a young child, lacking the capacity to verbalize regarding physical manifestations of emotional distress, the exposure to a negligently, inflicted violent contact, such as a car accident, coupled with evidence demonstrating emotional distress, is sufficient evidence to support an award of noneconomic damages."
The Court said the district court also did not abuse its discretion when it denied the company's motion for a new trial.
"Since the district court's findings of fact align with those of the jury and are supported by substantial, competent evidence, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found that the jury's verdict was in line with the clear weight of the evidence," Horton wrote.
The district court did not commit legal error when it permitted the jury to consider whether Boise Tire's conduct was "reckless," the Court said.
The company argued that because the Carrillos never amended their pleadings to allege reckless or willful misconduct, calling into question the applicability of Section 6-1603 -- which caps the amount of noneconomic damages that a claimant may receive for actions in negligence -- the trial court committed legal error.
"However, the damages cap does not apply to: (1) '(c)auses of action arising out of willful or reckless misconduct,' or (2) '(c)auses of action arising out of an act or acts which the trier of fact finds beyond a reasonable doubt would constitute a felony under state or federal law,'" Horton wrote.
The district court did err in part when it denied Boise Tire's motion to reduce the Carrillos' damage award pursuant to Section 6-1606, the Court said.
Section 6-1606, it explained, mandates that a tortfeasor is liable only for those damages that remain after most forms of collateral source payments are taken into account.
In this case, the court erred in denying Boise Tire's motion to reduce the damage award by the amount of Jose's past social security disability benefits, Horton said.
The Court vacated the judgment as to Jose's personal injury award and remanded to the district court to reduce the award by the amount of his social security benefits received at the time the lower court originally entered judgment.
The Court also ruled that the Carrillos are not entitled to attorney fees on appeal.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.