To establish a cause of action in negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the breach resulted in injury to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff suffered an actual loss or damage. Negligence is the absence of ordinary care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in the same or similar circumstances. The mere occurrence of an accident does not establish negligent conduct. Rather, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant engaged in conduct that deviated from the general standard of care expected under the circumstances, and that this deviation proximately caused actual harm.
In appellee's personal injury action against appellant driver and his employer, the parties presented conflicting testimony relating directly to the issue of appellant driver's negligence. The jury concluded that appellant driver was not negligent and the trial court rendered a verdict for appellants. The trial court, however, granted appellee's motion for a new trial on the grounds that the jury's verdict that appellant driver was not negligent was unacceptable and the intermediate appellate court affirmed the decision.
Can a jury verdict on a negligence claim be overturned when it rests on a credibility determination?
The court reversed the decision and reinstated the jury's verdict, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by disregarding the jury's credibility determination and substituting its own. A resolution of appellant driver's negligence relied upon a credibility determination and the jury's assessment of what constituted ordinary care under the circumstances. Because the assessment was solely within the province of the jury, the trial court was not at liberty to reassess the evidence and make its own credibility determination simply because it would have reached a different conclusion.