On the morning of March 16, 2006, a Yellow Freight tractor-trailer collided with a Swift Transportation tractor-trailer as the Swift tractor-trailer was attempting to enter a rest stop off of U.S. Highway 54 in New Mexico. Terry Frederick, who was in the sleeping berth of the Yellow Freight tractor-trailer at the time of the accident, and his wife, Donna, subsequently brought this action against Swift for the injuries he sustained. Following a trial on the merits, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Fredericks for a total of $23,500,000. After a reduction for comparative fault, the court entered judgment against Swift in the amount of $15,275,000. On appeal, Swift challenges the court’s rulings on several jury instructions, as well as the court’s rulings on the admissibility of certain witness testimony and evidence. The Fredericks, in their cross-appeal, argue the court’s denial of prejudgment interest was contrary to the evidence and New Mexico law. We address each issue in turn.
We “review a district court’s decision to give a particular jury instruction for abuse of discretion.” United States v. Platte, 401 F.3d 1176, 1183 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “we review de novo legal objections to the jury instructions.” Daniel v. Ben E. Keith Co., 97 F.3d 1329, 1334 (10th Cir. 1996). “Where an appellate court determines that the district court has given a legally erroneous jury instruction, the judgment must be reversed if the jury might have based its verdict on the erroneously given instruction.” Level 3 Commc’n, LLC v. Liebert Corp., 535 F.3d 1146, 1158 (10th Cir. 2008) (emphasis omitted). We review the district court’s interpretation of state law de novo. Daniel, 97 F.3d at 1332. It is undisputed New Mexico law governs the substantive merits of this dispute.
A. Course and scope of employment
At the close of the Fredericks’ evidence, the court ruled as a matter of law that Swift’s driver, who tested positive for methamphetamine on a drug test several hours after the accident, acted within the scope and course of employment. The court then instructed the jury that “Swift is liable for any negligence of [its driver].” (Appellant’s App. at 2014.) On appeal, Swift argues the court erred in giving this instruction because whether its driver consumed methamphetamine before or after the accident is a disputed fact; thus, the jury could have found that the driver ingested the methamphetamine before the accident and that this action removed her from the course and scope of her employment.
Judge(s): Tacha, McKay, Gorsuch
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
Related Categories: Damages , Expert Witness , Torts , Transportation
|Circuit Court Judge(s)|
|Trial Court Judge(s)|
|Plaintiff Lawyer(s)||Plaintiff Law Firm(s)|
|Michael W. Blanton, Esq.||Michael W. Blanton|
|Douglas R. Bradley||Shamberg Johnson & Bergman Chtd|
|Lynn Johnson||Shamberg Johnson & Bergman Chtd|
|Scott E. Nutter||Shamberg Johnson & Bergman Chtd|
|Defendant Lawyer(s)||Defendant Law Firm(s)|
|James Jarrow||Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC|
|John A. Watt||Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC|
|Brandon Henry||Wagstaff & Cartmell LLP|
|Thomas Wagstaff||Wagstaff & Cartmell LLP|