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Tempel v. Benson

Supreme Court of Montana

March 17, 2015

CHRISTINA TEMPEL, Plaintiff and Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
LAUNA BENSON, Defendant and Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

OPINION AND ORDER

BETH BAKER

¶1 Christina Tempel appeals from a Missoula County jury verdict awarding Tempel some, but not all, of the damages she sought in her negligence action against Launa Benson. The dispositive issues on appeal are as follows:

1. Whether Tempel waived her right to appeal the jury's verdict by accepting the benefits of the judgment entered on that verdict.
2. Whether the District Court abused its discretion in determining that Benson's conduct did not warrant discovery sanctions.

¶2 We dismiss Tempel's appeal of the verdict and affirm the District Court's order denying sanctions.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶3 Tempel sued Benson for negligence after the two were involved in a car crash in Missoula. During discovery, Tempel sent Benson a request asking Benson to admit violating certain traffic laws on the day of the crash; Benson denied the request. Tempel eventually moved for summary judgment on the issue of Benson's negligence and the District Court granted that motion. Tempel also moved for sanctions against Benson under M. R. Civ. P. 37 for Benson's failure to admit violating traffic laws. The District Court denied that motion.

¶4 The case proceeded to a jury trial on damages. The court submitted a special verdict form to the jury, and the jury awarded Tempel $168, 851.94 in past medical expenses, $40, 000 in future medical expenses, $35, 000 in past and future pain and suffering, $21, 830 in loss of earning capacity, $2, 754 in loss of household services, and $0 each for past loss of earnings, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In accordance with the verdict, the District Court entered judgment in favor of Tempel in the amount of $268, 435.94.

¶5 Benson paid Tempel the full judgment amount plus interest. Tempel accepted the funds and signed a document entitled, "Acknowledgment of Payment of Judgment Reserving Claims for New Trial." Tempel moved for a new trial on the issue of damages for emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and future medical expenses associated with a prescription drug called Cymbalta. Benson opposed the motion and moved for entry of satisfaction of judgment. Concluding that the jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence, the District Court denied Tempel's motion for a new trial and entered an order of satisfaction of judgment.

¶6 Tempel filed a notice of appeal. Benson moved this Court to dismiss the appeal, arguing that Tempel waived her right to appeal by accepting the benefits of the judgment. We responded by directing the parties to make their arguments about dismissal in their appellate briefs. On appeal, Tempel requests a new trial, challenges several evidentiary rulings, and appeals the District Court's decision not to impose sanctions against Benson. Benson cross-appeals on several issues that the Court need consider only if a new trial is ordered.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶7 Dismissal of an appeal for waiver is a matter for determination by this Court. See Reichert v. State, 2012 MT 111, ¶¶ 20, 22, 365 Mont. 92, 278 P.3d 455. We review for abuse of discretion a district court's determination whether an alleged discovery abuse meets the requirements for mandatory sanctions. Doherty v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Assoc., 2014 MT 56, ¶ 12, 374 Mont. 151, 319 P.3d 1279.

DISCUSSION

¶8 1. Whether Tempel waived her right to appeal the jury's verdict by accepting thebenefits of the ...


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