OCEAN CITY — Maryland’s highest court ruled this week an Ocean City taxi cab driver is entitled to monetary damages awarded to her following an accident on Coastal Highway in 2008, overturning the Court of Special Appeals’ decision that an issue with the reading of the jury verdict nullified the award of damages.
On July 4, 2008, Ocean City cab driver Catherine Turner was making a left turn at a stop light with a green arrow when a vehicle driven by Direse Hastings, who was driving the opposite direction, ran a red light and collided with the taxi. The cab driver was not injured, although her vehicle sustained significant damage and was taken out of service for a considerable amount of time during the height of the summer season.
In 2010, Turner filed a civil suit in Worcester County Circuit Court seeking damages against Hastings for negligence and assault. After hearing testimony at trial, the jury was given two verdict sheets before deliberating, one for the alleged negligence and one for the alleged assault. After deliberating for nearly two hours, the jury returned and its verdicts were read aloud in the courtroom.
When asked if Hastings was negligent in the case, the jury answered yes. When asked if the cab driver, Turner, was negligent, the jury answered no. When asked if it had been proven that Turner had sustained injuries as a result of the accident, the jury answered no. At that point, with the jury having reached the conclusion Turner had not suffered injuries, the case was formally closed and the jury was dismissed.
However, when Judge Thomas Groton reviewed the jury’s written verdict sheets, he realized the jury had intended to award Turner $325 for medical expenses incurred while getting checked out for injuries following the accident. The jury had also listed an award of $18,000 for the loss of probable income because Turner’s cab was out of service during much of the summer season and also $2,820 for damages to the taxi cab. The jury did not, however, award any damages for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, for example.
Groton then essentially reversed the decision and awarded damages to the plaintiff in the amount of $21,145, or the combined amount for past medical bills, the loss of income and the costs to repair the cab. In his opinion, Groton said the jury clearly intended to award damages to the plaintiff, despite answering no to the question regarding her personal injuries.
The defendant’s attorney then cried foul, alleging the jury was dismissed after answering no to the personal injury question and that the award of damages came only after the judge had carefully reviewed the jury’s verdict sheet. The judge, however, said the amounts in the various columns for damages were not filled in as a simple reiteration of the amounts originally being sought, but rather suggested the jury had carefully reviewed each of the categories and assigned damages different than what was being sought by the plaintiff.
Hastings’ attorney quickly appealed the case to the Court of Special Appeals, arguing the judge had usurped its authority to revise a jury verdict after the panel had been dismissed and the Court of Special Appeals essentially agreed and denied the $21,145 in damages awarded to the Ocean City cab driver. The plaintiff, Turner, then appealed to the higher Court of Appeals to review the lower court’s ruling in the case.
This week, the Court of Appeals ruled the Worcester County Circuit Court judge had simply exercised his power to correct what he saw as an inconsistent verdict. As a result, the Court of Appeals decision issued on Tuesday will force the defendant, Hastings, to pay the $21,145 in damages to Turner.