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Worjloh v. Stephens

November 20, 2003

STEPHEN WORJLOH, APPELLANT,
v.
MARY STEPHENS, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4543-97) (Hon. John H. Bayly, Jr., Trial Judge)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Washington, Associate Judge, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Chief Judge

Argued March 12, 2002

Appellant, Stephen Worjloh, and his wife, Sheila Worjloh, filed a complaint for damages for personal injuries arising out of an automobile accident. Appellee, Mary Stephens, stipulated liability for the rear-end collision, and the question of damages proceeded to trial by jury. Although the jury found that both appellant and his wife sustained personal injuries which were proximately caused by appellee's negligence, it awarded him no damages and awarded her only $297.30, the cost of the bill for her emergency room treatment. Appellant filed a motion for a new trial in which he argued that the jury's verdict was inadequate, against the w eight of the evidence and inconsistent with its finding that he sustained injuries as a proximate result of appellee's negligence. The trial court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. *fn1 On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial. We agree, and therefore, reverse and remand for a new trial on the issue of damages only.

I.

Appellant's claim arose out of an automobile accident that occurred on the afternoon of June 23, 1995. Appellant testified that on that date, he was driving to the store with his wife and her eleven year-old son. While appellant's vehicle was stopped in traffic, appellee drove her car into the rear of his vehicle. Appellee admitted liability for causing the accident, which her counsel conceded at pre-trial and in opening statement. Appellee appeared at trial only through counsel, and appellant and his wife were the only witnesses who testified.

Appellant testified that he experienced back and neck pain as a result of the accident. Although his wife went to the hospital by ambulance the day of the accident, appellant said that he did not because his pain was not so bad at that time, and there was no one to care for the child. Appellant called his brother who drove him home from the accident. He testified that he experienced discomfort in his neck and back after arriving home, and he laid down. He said that his brother drove him to the hospital late that evening to pick up his wife. The next day, he and his wife contacted the law offices of his attorneys in this case, and they referred him to Dr. Kalontorus, a chiropractor. Appellant saw Dr. Kalontorus, who x-rayed, examined and treated him. He described the treatments, which he received over a period of about a month for approximately ten to fifteen minutes per session, as electrical stimulation, and hot and cold packs to the injured area. He testified that he continued to experience discomfort in his neck and back area up until the time of trial; however, he did not return for treatment because he could not afford it. Appellant described his limitations since the accident, including that he can no longer touch his toes or play soccer and that he experiences pain upon turning his neck. Appellant made no claim for lost wages, explaining that he was on vacation during the time period involved. *fn2

Following closing argument, the parties agreed to submit a verdict form to the jury. The following question appeared on the verdict form:

Did plaintiff, Stephen Worjloh, sustain personal injuries which were directly and proximately caused him by the negligence of defendant?

The jury responded "yes" to the question. However, in response to the question "[i]n what amount do you award damages for plaintiff, Stephen Worjloh, for his injuries directly and proximately caused him by [Ms. Stephens'] negligence," the jury entered a zero. Similarly, the jury found that Mrs. Worjloh sustained injuries as a proximate result of appellee's negligence. It awarded her only "$297.30" in damages, which is the exact amount of the bill for her emergency room treatment on the day of the accident.

Appellant's counsel moved for a new trial on his behalf on the issue of damages. The trial court granted judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and gave the parties ten days to brief their positions. Within ten days of the verdict, appellant filed a Motion for New Trial, and appellee filed an opposition, each with a supporting memorandum of points and authorities. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the jury had grounds to reject appellant's request for compensation, and therefore, it could not be said that the verdict resulted from prejudice, passion, partiality, oversight or mistake. Specifically, the trial court noted that appellant did not seek medical attention until three days after the accident and missed no time from work. It further explained that

[t]he objective evidence . . . including photographs of the two cars following the accident, indicates that the accident involved no great speed or force and that plaintiff delayed medical services until after he had first sought legal advice. Moreover, [Mr. Worjloh's] two subsequent accidents provided the jury with reason to discount [his] contention that he still experiences pain and discomfort, loss of physical dexterity, and diminished athletic ability.

On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his ...


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