Circuit Court Judge Beth Boniface was justified in denying a South Florida woman who was seriously injured in a predawn car-versus-pedestrian crash on Highway 70 in Hawkins County in 2005 motion for a new trial, a state appeals court ruled this week.
Joanna L. Golden, a vice president of a Miami real estate company, suffered broken legs and a “slew of other injuries” when she was struck from behind while jogging by a vehicle driven by a woman named Cynthia D. Powers, according to the opinion.
She incurred approximately $240,000 in medical expenses, but has since substantially recovered and returned to work. The jury concluded Golden was 80 percent responsible for the crash. The jury awarded Golden about $61,000, an amount the South Florida woman claims is far too low, according to the opinion.
Golden asserted that Boniface should have realized Golden got shorted and exercised her role as the 13th juror by awarding Golden with more money, or at least given her a chance to reargue her case before a Hawkins County Circuit Court jury.
Judge D. Michael Swiney, writing for the unanimous court, concluded that Boniface did not abandon her role as the 13th juror, and opined that the verdict was supported by the evidence. He characterized Golden’s assertion of regional favoritism “speculative, at best.”
“While plaintiffs take issue with the fact that all the evidence cited by (Boniface) was favorable to Powers, this was the trial courts prerogative,” the 14-page opinion states. “Certainly there was competing evidence. Trials are inherently about deciding issues in dispute.”
As for assigning Powers only 20 percent fault for the crash, that’s a question for the jury and a matter that appeals courts – in the overwhelming majority of cases – should leave alone. Quoting from a precedent-setting 2008 Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, Swiney wrote:
“Challenging a jury’s allocation of fault is the legal equivalent of the ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” the opinion states, “The comparison and allocation of fault is for the jury, and appellate courts will not second-guess a jury’s allocation of fault if it is supported by material evidence.”
The case wasn’t tried until 2015. Boniface denied Golden’s motion for a new trial in 2019.