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Pouzanova v. Morton

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 20, 2014

EKATERINA V. POUZANOVA, Petitioner,
v.
KUUIPO T. MORTON, Respondent

Petition for Hearing from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Kodiak, Steve W. Cole, Judge, on appeal from the District Court for the State of Alaska, Anchorage, John R. Lohff, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-10-08545 CI. District Court No. 3AN-08-11802 CI.

David S. Carter, Hughes, Gorski, Seedorf, Odsen & Tervooren, LLC, Anchorage, for Petitioner.

Allison Mendel and Laurence Blakely, Mendel & Associates, Anchorage, for Respondent.

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

OPINION

Page 866

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case, arising out of a traffic accident, comes to us on a petition for hearing from a decision of the superior court, acting as the intermediate appellate court following a trial in district court. The superior court reversed the district court judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. We agree with the superior court that a remand is in order because certain evidence of domestic violence should have been excluded under Alaska Evidence Rule 403. On two other issues, however, we reverse the superior court's decision and hold that the district court was correct: it correctly dismissed the plaintiff's punitive damages claim and correctly declined to require that the plaintiff's husband be joined as a third-party defendant.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On May 26, 2008, Ekaterina Pouzanova drove past a stop sign and into an intersection

Page 867

in Anchorage and was broad-sided by a vehicle driven by Kuuipo Morton. Morton went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with lower back pain and a possible compression fracture. She continued to complain of pain in her back and neck in the months that followed, and she received some additional treatment for these complaints.

Pouzanova did not contest liability for the accident, but she did dispute the extent of Morton's injuries. Morton sued in district court for non-economic and punitive damages. She initially included claims for lost earnings and medical expenses as well but dropped them before trial. The district court dismissed the punitive damages claim on summary judgment, finding that the evidence could not support a finding of recklessness.

During jury selection, Morton challenged three potential jurors for cause. The court declined to excuse the jurors, and Morton used three of her four peremptory challenges to replace them. During trial the court allowed testimony about domestic violence in Morton's marriage as relevant to her claim for loss of enjoyment of life, including evidence of an incident in which she allegedly threatened her husband with a hammer. The jury returned a verdict of $5,000 for past non-economic loss and zero for future non-economic loss. Because Morton had earlier rejected an offer of judgment under Civil Rule 68, the amount of attorney's fees and costs assessed against her more than offset the amount of the verdict in her favor.

Morton appealed to the superior court, which vacated the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The superior court found reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment on the punitive damages claim; its refusal to grant the challenges for cause during jury selection; its failure to require the joinder of Morton's husband as a third-party defendant for purposes of ...


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