Law School Case Brief
Leavitt v. Scott - 338 F.2d 749 (10th Cir. 1964)
In a personal injury action arising from an automobile accident, where the evidence is overwhelming that plaintiff suffered a severe and permanent injury that destroyed all or part of his earning capacity for his life expectancy of 31.6 years, a jury award of $ 92,000 general damage does not in any way indicate that an improper cause motivated the jury's determination of the monetary fact of damage, absent which the finding is considered inviolate.
Plaintiff James Allen Scott was injured in a head-on collision involving his truck and truck operated by defendant Alfred B. Leavitt. Scott suffered multiple injuries, the most severe of which was a cerebral concussion that rendered him totally unconscious for a period of three days and comatose for an additional five days. Before the accident, Scott had been employed as a truck driver and operator of a front end loader. He was described by his employer and by fellow employees as a skillful and generally superior employee and had been earning about $ 600 a month. Upon his return to employment, his work proved unsatisfactory and his employer, after consulting with Scott's personal physician, let him go. Scott filed a diversity action against Leavitt in Colorado federal district court. Leavitt was a citizen of Utah. At the time of the accident and at the time of trial Scott was a citizen of Utah. Scott initiated the action while he was residing in Colorado where he and his family had moved after Scott lost his job in Utah. Ultimately, Scott moved back to Utah. At trial, the district court court specifically and specially found that in Scott was a citizen of Colorado and that the required diversity of citizenship conferred jurisdiction upon the Colorado court. The district court granted Scott a directed a verdict on the issue of liability. The determination of amount of damage was the only issue submitted to the jury. Scott was awarded $ 93,489.40 for special and general damages. Leavitt appealed.
Was Scott's award excessive?
The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court ruled that the evidence was overwhelming that Scott suffered a severe and permanent injury that destroyed all or part of his earning capacity for his life expectancy of 31.6 years. The award of $ 92,000 general damage did not in any way indicate that an improper cause motivated the jury's determination of the monetary fact of damage, absent which the finding was considered inviolate. The court also ruled that the evidence established that the Scotts' move to Colorado was made with the then present intent of remaining and establishing a Colorado residence, and as such it was sufficient to establish citizenship within the requirements of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1332. Consequently, the district court properly found that it had jurisdiction over the matter. The court further held that the trial court committed no errors in its jury instructions on damages or in its rulings affecting the scope of examination, particularly cross-examination, of expert medical witnesses.
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