INTRODUCTIONMr. Boyle was hit by a truck and injured while walking in a crosswalk. Mr. Christensen, the driver, admitted liability, but the case went to trial on damages. Not satisfied with the jury award, Mr. Boyle appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the district court decision in all respects. Mr. Boyle sought certiorari review regarding three issues. He argues that (1) the district court provided inadequate voir dire questioning, (2) opposing counsel’s improper reference to the “McDonald’s coffee case” in closing argument warrants reversal, and (3) Mrs. Boyle’s related loss of consortium claim was improperly dismissed. We hold that the court of appeals was correct in deciding that Mr. Boyle did not properly preserve the voir dire issue for appeal, because he neither objected to the district court’s voir dire questions nor asked for additional questions when he could have done so. However, the court of appeals incorrectly affirmed on the other two issues. We conclude that the reference to the McDonald’s coffee case was irrelevant and improper. We reverse and remand for a new trial because, under the circumstances, the reference had a reasonable likelihood of influencing the jury verdict to Mr. Boyle’s detriment. We also find that the dismissal of Mrs. Boyle’s loss of consortium claim was improper, because there were disputed issues of fact (or at least disputed reasonable inferences therefrom) as to whether there was a qualifying injury as defined by statute.
BACKGROUNDAppellants Mr. and Mrs. Boyle are husband and wife. Mr. Boyle was hit by a truck while walking in a crosswalk in a grocery store parking lot. Mr. Boyle sustained injuries that led to back surgery. For months he could not work and therefore lost his job. He now suffers from chronic pain that has multiple consequences, including an inability to sleep through the night, sleep in a bed, drive for extended periods, work an eight-hour day, or perform certain work-related tasks such as lifting two buckets of golf balls at once. He is now working for a new company in the same general industry he worked for before and for the golf shop where he worked before the injury, but with modified income potential and reduced abilities (mentally because of the lack of sleep and constant pain, and physically because he is unable to lift buckets of golf balls, drive for extended periods, or work a full eight-hour shift). He was once a professional golfer, and the back injury has also affected his golf game.
Mr. Boyle brought a negligence action against Mr. Christensen, who admitted liability. The case went to trial on the question of appropriate damages. Before trial, Mrs. Boyle also brought a claim for loss of consortium, which the district court dismissed. The grounds for dismissal were that Mrs. Boyle could not show that Mr. Boyle had suffered a qualifying injury under Utah Code section 30-2-11(1).
In the jury selection process, both parties submitted voir dire questions. The judge combined and revised the questions, omitting some of Mr. Boyle’s questions that addressed jurors’ views on tort reform issues. It is unclear from the record (and disputed in the briefs before this court) whether the district court provided copies of its own voir dire questions to the parties before it began questioning the potential jurors. During the jury selection process, Mr. Boyle’s counsel neither objected to the omission of any questions nor asked for additional questions, even when given the opportunity to do so. Mr. Boyle does not dispute that no such attempt was made either before the jury or in the judge’s chambers.
Judge(s): Christine M. Durham
Jurisdiction: Utah Supreme Court
Related Categories: Damages , Torts
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