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2004-UP-052 - Miller v. Stark

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Joe Louis Miller, Sr., Individually and as Legal Guardian of Joe Louis Miller, Jr., and Sophia Miller, both Minors,        Appellant,

v.

Sherah L. Stark,        Respondent.


Appeal From York County
Lee S. Alford, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-052
Submitted November 19, 2003 – Filed January 22, 2004


AFFIRMED


R. Thayer Rivers, Jr., of Ridgeland, for Appellants.

Ronnie Fred Craig, of Charlotte, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Joe Louis Miller, Sr., individually and as legal guardian of Joe Miller, Jr. and Sophia Miller, both minors, appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion for a new trial absolute and challenges the sufficiency of the additur award.  We affirm. [1]

FACTS

Miller brought a personal injury action against Sherah Stark following a minor traffic accident.  The case was tried to a jury and verdicts were returned in favor of Miller and his two children in the amounts of $316, $202 and $202, respectively.  Miller moved post-trial for a new trial nisi additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial absolute. The judge denied his motion for a new trial, but granted an additur of $35 to Miller and both of his two children.  Miller appeals the court’s denial of his motion for a new trial absolute and challenges the sufficiency of the additur award. 

Stark testified she was a few cars back from the traffic signal behind Miller’s Cadillac when the light turned green.  She let her foot off the brake without accelerating and looked over her shoulder to check on a crying child when she rolled into the Cadillac.  After the accident, Miller got out of the car, checked his rear bumper and walked to a nearby service station to telephone the police.  Stark testified Miller’s children continued to play and behave normally in the back seat of his vehicle. 

EMS responded but no one was taken to the hospital and Miller later drove his vehicle from the scene.  Afterward, Miller and his children visited the emergency room.  Miller’s head was examined and found to be atraumatic and normal.  Neither of the children was given any medication. 

In her answer, Stark answer admitted that a collision occurred, but denied that Miller and his children sustained injuries to the extent they alleged in the complaint.  At the trial, Stark essentially admitted liability while continuing to question the damages as claimed by Miller. 

LAW/ANALYSIS

Miller argues the trial court erred by failing to grant a new trial absolute based on inadequacy of the verdict.  We disagree.

The amount of the verdict is not so shockingly disproportionate to the injuries Miller or his children sustained as to indicate “passion, caprice, prejudice, or some other influence outside the evidence” motivated the jury’s decision.  O'Neal v. Bowles, 314 S.C. 525, 431 S.E.2d 555, 556 (1993).

Testimony revealed neither Miller nor his children suffered any serious injury.  Indeed, Miller’s children continued to play undisturbed in the rear seat of his car immediately after the accident.  Although EMS was called to the scene, no one was taken to the hospital.  Miller’s later trip to the emergency room revealed he suffered no head injury and the children required no medication.  The jury awarded damages to cover the cost of the initial emergency room visit and included the EMS trip in Miller’s verdict.  The jury simply concluded that Miller did not deserve costs for later medical treatments and awarded damages accordingly.  As Miller noted in his brief, “the range of damages could have been from zero to the sky.”  See Gamble v. Stevenson, 305 S.C. 104, 406 S.E.2d 350 (1991) (citing Fennell v. Littlejohn, 240 S.C. 189, 125 S.E.2d 408 (1962)) (The award of actual and punitive damages remains within the discretion of the jury, as reviewed by the trial judge.) 

Miller also challenges the sufficiency of the trial court’s additur award, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by “speculating as to the methodology of the jury verdict.”  We disagree.

A motion for a new trial nisi additur is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge.  Graham v. Whitaker, 282 S.C. 393, 321 S.E.2d 40 (1984).  We find no abuse of discretion by the trial judge in determining an additional award of $35 for Miller and the children.  It is clear to us that the trial judge carefully considered Miller’s motion.  After all, he granted the amounts of the EMS transport fees as part and parcel of costs directly arising out of the events of the accident but, consistent with the jury’s reasoning, declined to extend additur to cover later medical bills. 

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, STILWELL, and BEATTY, JJ., concur.


[1]        We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.