Lack of surgery doesn't support jury instruction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a jury award and remanded for a new trial after ruling there was insufficient evidence to support an affirmative defense of a failure to mitigate damages instruction to the jury because a plaintiff failed to have surgery.

In Elwood and Lila Simmons v. Erie Insurance Exchange, No. 32A04-0710-CV-552, the couple appealed a judgment awarding them each $10,000 following an automobile accident involving Elwood and another driver, who was at fault. They filed a complaint seeking underinsured motorist insurance benefits from their insurer, Erie Insurance. Elwood sought compensation for damages suffered from the accident resulting in plantar fascitis, which caused pain in his right foot and made him develop a learned gait to avoid putting pressure on certain parts of his foot.

Elwood saw several doctors and was given treatment and physical therapy, but surgery was never suggested by any of the doctors.

At trial, Erie tendered a proposed jury instruction on the affirmative defense of failure to mitigate damages, which the trial court allowed. The jury awarded $10,000 each to the couple but granted Erie's motion that they weren't entitled to any payment from Erie because they had been paid previously by the other motorist's insurance.

Erie argued Elwood failed to mitigate damages by not undergoing surgery to treat his plantar fascitis, by developing a learned gait, and his alleged failure to regularly use medications and orthotics.

The Court of Appeals noted in the opinion that the "duty of one injured because of another's fault to submit to invasive treatment has caused courts some trouble" and Indiana hasn't addressed whether a plaintiff has to submit to surgery in nearly 100 years. The appellate court examined previous Indiana caselaw on this matter, as well as rulings from other states to conclude whether a plaintiff has a duty to submit to surgery requires a "reasonable person" analysis, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

Based on the facts that no doctor recommended surgery, his doctors prescribed other treatments, and Erie's failure to introduce evidence regarding the risks, benefits, costs, or inconveniences of the surgery, the Court of Appeals concluded Elwood's failure to undergo surgery is insufficient to support an instruction on failure to mitigate damages.

The court also found his learned gait as a result of the plantar fascitis and his alleged failure to regularly use his medications and orthotics don't support the trial court's instruction on failure to mitigate damages, wrote Judge Robb.

The issue of mitigation of damages was emphasized for the jury, and the likelihood the matter was discussed and impacted the jury's verdict is significant and not a harmless error, wrote the judge, so the appellate court remanded for a new trial.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues