The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District upheld a judgment for an insurer accused of failing to settle a Belton couple’s personal injury lawsuit.
On April 27, a three-judge panel sided with Benchmark Insurance Company, finding the lower court did not err in denying James and Hadley Maloney’s motion for a new trial.
The couple sued Benchmark and the other driver, Karla Coronado, in 2018 to collect on a $440,000 judgment issued against Coronado in 2017. James Maloney, who suffered rotator cuff injuries from the 2015 collision, alleged in the suit that Benchmark declined the couple’s initial offer to settle for Coronado’s $25,000 policy limits.
In 2019, a Cass County jury returned a verdict for the insurer. On appeal, the Maloneys argued that Benchmark’s counsel repeatedly and willfully attempted to present matters to the jury that had been excluded in pretrial orders, including asking the plaintiff’s expert witness if he was aware of other bad-faith suits against the company during cross-examination.
According to the opinion, the Maloneys raised nine objections asserting violations of pretrial rulings. They asserted the conduct was prejudicial because it forced them to continually object and appear as if they were suppressing evidence.
Judge William B. Collins denied the motion for new trial after finding in part that the plaintiffs waived the claim by failing to request a mistrial. The Western District agreed.
Chief Judge Cynthia Martin said the court was mindful of the plaintiffs’ concern that failing to order a new trial in the case would embolden attorneys who disregard pretrial rulings and result in no consequences for them.
The panel disagreed that such conduct would not be subject to consequences or a remedy, however.
“The conduct was susceptible to a remedy that Plaintiffs chose not to seek, a mistrial,” Martin said. “Though inconvenient, the remedy of a mistrial would have imposed no greater burden on Plaintiffs than the relief of a new trial sought in their motion for new trial.”
She added that such conduct would also be governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibit intentional violations of a trial court’s pretrial rulings.
Judges Lisa White Hardwick and Anthony Rex Gabbert concurred.
The case is Maloney et al. v. Benchmark Insurance Company, WD83411.