The Facts of the Case:
Sometime in October 2007, an automobile accident occurred involving A and B, A being the injured victim. As a result of the accident, A suffered from a spinal injury. Consequently, A had to undergo a cervical spinal fusion surgery in September 2009. Thereafter, A filed a personal injury action against B and seeks recovery for the personal injuries he sustained. B did not contest his liability for causing the automobile accident, but argued that the accident was not the cause of A’s injury or need for medical treatment; that the nature of the automobile accident was only minor; that A’s medical history which included a prior cervical spinal fusion surgery in 1991, a 1998 automobile accident in which A was ejected from the vehicle, and diagnoses of emphysema and spinal degenerative disease were the main causes of A’s spinal injury. After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of B, finding that A had not suffered an injury as a result of the 2007 accident. A then filed a motion for a new trial and the trial court granted the motion. The trial court concluded that the jury’s verdict finding no causation was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence in light of the testimony of the three expert medical witnesses, one of whom was a defense witness, who each opined that A’s personal injury and resulting surgery was caused at least in part by the 2007 accident; that while acknowledging B’s arguments and the evidence offered in support thereof, the trial court disregarded all lay testimony bearing on causation of A’s injuries; that the court expressly concluded that in the absence of expert testimony regarding accident reconstruction or other technical matters affecting causation for the injury, no reasonable juror would conclude no causation in light of the opinions of the three doctors; that with regard to A’s credibility, the court found, his credibility had little, if any, weight on the issue of causation in light of the uncontroverted opinions of the three informed and credible doctors; that with regard to A’s pre-existing spinal degeneration, the court again found the expert testimony to outweigh other evidence where no reasonable juror would conclude that degeneration, to the exclusion of the collision, was the cause of A’s injury in light of the testimony of the three doctors.
The Ruling of the Court:
Under the rules, a trial court’s decision to grant a new trial on the grounds that the verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence may be reviewed for abuse of discretion. When reviewing the order, an appellate court must recognize the broad discretionary authority of the trial judge and apply a reasonableness test to determine whether the trial judge committed an abuse of discretion. If an appellate court determines that reasonable persons could differ as to the propriety of the action taken by the trial court, there can be no finding of an abuse of discretion. However, a reviewing court may find that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that the manifest weight of the evidence was contrary to the verdict and granting a new trial in two circumstances: where the evidence in the record does not support the trial court’s determination; or where the trial court’s determination rests on an incorrect conclusion of law.
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