COA reverses, remands for retrial on damages in car crash dispute

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded for retrial on the issue of damages in a negligence case brought by a Lake County woman who suffered a concussion stemming from a car crash.

As she was leaving school in 2016, then-high school student Sydney Renner was involved in a three-vehicle crash that left her with a concussion.

Renner, who had already sustained two concussions in previous years, was diagnosed with postconcussional syndrome and suffered two additional head injuries in the following months. She attended physical therapy to address her dizziness, balance and speech issues in the following months, which eventually improved.

Renner’s headaches continued in the following years and she struggled with memory loss and concentration throughout college, causing her to struggle academically and change her career plans.

Renner sued Trevor Shepard-Bazant, a classmate who hit her vehicle in the 2016 wreck, for negligence, and he defaulted as to liability. The Lake Superior Court after holding a weeklong bench trial on damages issued a final judgment in favor of Renner, awarding her $132,000 in damages. However, it rejected Renner’s requested damages, finding that she had not proven by the greater weight of the evidence that Shepard-Bazant’s negligence was the sole, responsible cause of all her damages.

It later denied Renner’s filed motion to correct error, in which she asked the trial court to increase the award of damages to $692,433.79. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in a Friday decision, finding the trial court erred in denying Renner’s motion to correct error.

First, the appellate court concluded that the trial court’s order denying Renner’s motion to correct error does not address or acknowledge the rule that a tortfeasor takes a victim as they find them. Instead, it noted that the court merely stated that Shepard-Bazant is not “excused from liability” because of the prior concussions.

“Given the applicable law, and the undisputed evidence regarding the effects of Renner’s prior concussions upon the severity and long-term effects of the concussion she sustained due to Shepard-Bazant’s negligence, we conclude the court’s treatment of Renner’s prior two concussions as separate incidents, rather than as contributing to Renner’s injuries and damages arising from the auto accident, was against the logic and effects of the facts and circumstances before the court and resulted in error in the calculation of damages,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the appellate court.

The panel further disagreed with Shepard-Bazant’s argument that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to correct error, and did not err in calculating damages, finding “no evidence to support Shepard-Bazant’s claim of superseding causation.”

It likewise rejected Shepard-Bazant’s reliance on Spaulding v. Cook, 89 N.E.3d 413 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), finding it distinguishable from Renner’s case and concluding that the trial court erred in Renner’s case.

Turning to the question of remedy, however, the appellate court agreed with Shepard-Bazant that the record demonstrates the trial court adopted its own method of calculating damages.

“The court took Renner’s projected life expectancy, calculated a value of $30.00 per day of her life, and adjusted the multiplication by a portion of her damages for which Shepard-Bazant is liable. On this record, we will not order the trial court to grant Renner a specific amount of damages. Instead, we must remand for a retrial,” it concluded.

The appellate court therefore reversed and remanded in the case of Sydney Renner v. Trevor J Shepard Bazant, 19A-CT-02745.

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