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10/30/92 LINEAR T. JEFFERSON v. OURISMAN CHEVROLET

October 30, 1992

LINEAR T. JEFFERSON, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
OURISMAN CHEVROLET CO., INC., APPELLEE



Appeal from Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Richard A. Levie, Trial Judge)

Before Steadman, Schwelb, and Sullivan, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan

SULLIVAN, Associate Judge:

Appellants, Linear T. Jefferson, and his wife, Sherry T. Jefferson, sued Paul Ellis and Ourisman Chevrolet Co., Inc. for damages allegedly resulting from injuries sustained by Mr. Jefferson in an automobile accident. After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict which awarded the appellants no damages. Appellants timely filed a post-trial motion for a partial judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to Mr. Jefferson's medical bills and lost wages or, alternatively, for a new trial on the issue of all damages. The motion was denied by the trial Judge. Appellants now appeal from the order denying the motion; they contend that the stipulation of the parties mandated an award of damages and that the Judge abused his discretion when he denied the motion. We affirm.

I.

On June 16, 1986, appellant, Linear Jefferson, while operating his automobile, was involved in a collision with an automobile owned by appellee, Ourisman Chevrolet, and operated by Paul Ellis. Mr. Jefferson was thereafter taken to Southern Maryland Hospital where he received medical treatment. He was then released and referred to a private physician for further treatment. During the trial, the jury heard conflicting testimony from Mr. Jefferson, his wife, and medical experts on both sides as to whether Mr. Jefferson's injuries and the treatment he received for those injuries were proximately caused by the negligence of appellee and its agent.

With regard to the issue of liability and the reasonableness of Mr. Jefferson's medical bills, which totaled approximately $6,000.00, the trial Judge instructed the jury that the parties had stipulated as follows:

1. The parties have agreed to stipulate to liability in this case. This means that the plaintiffs do not need to prove that Ourisman Chevrolet and Paul Ellis are at fault for this accident because defendants do not disagree on that. You need only decide how much damages, if any, should be paid to Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson for the injuries resulting from that accident. I instruct you to assume that Ourisman Chevrolet and Paul Ellis are at fault for this accident.

2. The parties have agreed to stipulate that plaintiff received medical treatment as a result of the accident and that all of the medical bills incurred by Mr. Jefferson in this case are reasonable. This means that the plaintiffs do not need to prove that these bills are reasonable because defendants do not disagree on that. I instruct you to assume that these medical bills are reasonable and proper.

In support of their post-trial motion, appellants argued that in view of the parties' stipulation admitting liability and the reasonableness of the medical bills, damages had been proven. Therefore, they requested the court to enter a judgment with respect to Mr. Jefferson's medical expenses and lost wages. In the alternative, they argued for a new trial on those damages, as well as damages for pain and suffering, again relying on the parties' stipulation and placing great reliance on this court's decision in Barron v. District of Columbia, 494 A.2d 663 (D.C. 1985).

The trial Judge denied both parts of the motion, stating the basis for his decision in a comprehensive and well-reasoned Memorandum Opinion and Order dated April 16, 1991 ("Memorandum") as follows:

The stipulation regarding the medical bills provided, inter alia, that "plaintiff received medical treatment as a result of the accident and that all of the medical bills incurred by Mr. Jefferson are reasonable." The Court does not view this stipulation as establishing all of the requisite elements for causation.

As a result of the stipulation on medical bills, it is beyond doubt that Mr. Jefferson obtained medical treatment as a result of the accident. The question left open, however, was whether the medical treatment received by Mr. Jefferson was proximately caused by the defendants. It is that question that defendants vigorously fought throughout this trial. The fact that Mr. Jefferson obtained the treatment does not necessarily establish the fact that he needed the treatment as a result of the collision at issue in this case. The testimony presented to the jury through the experts from both sides dealt with this issue, as did the testimony of Mr. Jefferson. If the jury credited, as they apparently did, the testimony of the defendants' experts, as well as the evidence obtained through the cross-examination of Mr. Jefferson and his ...


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