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Pralle v. Milwicz

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 9, 2014

JUSTIN PRALLE, Appellant,
v.
JESSICA MILWICZ, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-11-01385 CI.

Deborah Burlinski, Burlinski Law Office, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Gregory R. Henrikson, Walker & Eakes, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices. [Winfree, Justice, not participating.].

OPINION

Page 287

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Jessica Milwicz negligently rear-ended a vehicle driven bye Justin Pralle. In the lawsuit that followed, Milwicz admitted negligence but argued that she had not caused Pralle's injuries. A jury agreed with her, and judgment was entered in Milwicz's favor. Pralle appeals, arguing that the verdict was not supported by the evidence and that the superior court abused its discretion in its refusal to excuse several jurors for cause and its admission of expert testimony. We affirm the judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In June 2009 Jessica Milwicz negligently rear-ended a vehicle driven by Justin Pralle while he was stopped at an intersection in Wasilla. Pralle afterward complained of injury primarily in his neck and upper back, but over the months that followed he had complaints involving the rest of his back, hip, groin, shoulder, thumb, and elbow, in addition to headaches and facial numbness. He had been in two earlier accidents, in 2004 and 2005, for which he was being treated by his longstanding chiropractor, Dr. Bobby Lucas, as recently as a month before his accident with Milwicz. Dr. Lucas continued to treat Pralle after the accident.

Pralle sued Milwicz for personal injury. Milwicz admitted her negligence, but she disputed that she had caused Pralle's injuries. One of her witnesses at trial was Dr. John Ballard, who had conducted an independent medical evaluation of Pralle. In his testimony, Dr. Ballard minimized any injury from the accident with Milwicz, instead attributing Pralle's injuries to conditions that had developed from his earlier accidents. Pralle relied on the testimony of Dr. Lucas, who was allowed to testify as a " hybrid" expert witness based on his professional expertise and his direct experience as Pralle's treating physician.

Page 288

The jury found that the negligence of Milwicz was not a substantial factor in causing injury to Pralle. The superior court entered judgment in favor of Milwizc and awarded her attorney's fees and costs as prevailing party.

Pralle appeals. He argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict; that the superior court erred in its jury instructions; that the superior court abused its discretion when it failed to grant several challenges for cause of prospective jurors; and that the superior court abused its discretion with regard to the testimony of the two medical witnesses, Dr. Ballard and Dr. Lucas.

III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

When assessing whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support a jury verdict, we review the record to determine whether " 'the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence,' " [1] our goal being to ascertain whether " there has been a miscarriage of justice." [2] We " will not disturb a jury's verdict unless the evidence . . . is so clearly to the contrary that reasonable persons could not differ in their judgment." [3] If there was no motion for a new trial or motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict made in the trial court, we are " required to take the evidence and all inferences reasonably deducible [from the evidence] in the light most favorable to the appellee." [4] We review the decisions of the superior court regarding challenges for cause in jury voir dire for abuse of discretion,[5] and we will " interfere with the exercise of that discretion only in exceptional circumstances and to prevent a miscarriage of justice." [6] Similarly, we review the ...


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