A motor vehicle collision case that once produced verdict of more than a million dollars yielded less than $100,000 during a recent retrial.
A St. Louis jury on May 3 ruled in favor of plaintiff Anastasia Collier on claims that she was injured in a July 11, 2012, automobile accident. However, jurors also found Collier 15 percent at fault for the crash, resulting in a judgment of $85,000 against defendant Andrea Steinbach.
It’s a far cry from the first time the case was tried in 2018. Jurors then awarded $1.5 million but found Collier 20 percent at fault. But in late 2019, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District threw out the resulting $1.2 million judgment and sent it back for a new trial.
Collier’s attorneys, however, now say the retrial was unfair in its own way and have asked the judge to allow the case to be tried again.
Collier was injured in a July 11, 2012 crash in St. Louis. In a suit filed in 2017, Collier alleged that Steinbach turned left in front of her, causing a T-bone crash. Collier alleged that she suffered severe and permanent damage to her ribs, loss of enjoyment of life, reduced capacity to work, inconvenience, pain, suffering and emotional distress.
In late 2019, the appeals court ruled that Collier’s attorneys had made prejudicial references to and presented evidence of Steinbach’s liability insurer throughout the trial to pre-empt potentially harmful evidence from surveillance of her after the accident. The court ordered the case to be retried.
David Bub and Tyler Finnegan of Brown & James in St. Louis had taken over the case following the original verdict and won the case on appeal. In a written description of the second trial, Finnegan said the defense was denied permission to conduct additional discovery so they could obtain an expert. That left defense counsel with only the witnesses and discovery from the first trial.
Nonetheless, the Brown & James lawyers persuaded jurors to reduce the value of the verdict by 14-fold, arguing that medical records and cross-examination showed Collier made no complaints of rib pain until nearly six months after the accident at issue and that the “causation simply did not make sense.”
“Further, evidence was introduced showing Plaintiff currently leading an active lifestyle of travel and social event attendance and, as such, any effect any claimed injury has had on her life has been minimal,” Finnegan wrote.
Subsequently, Chris Finney of the Finney Law Firm in St. Louis, an attorney for Collier, argued in a post-trial motion that the defense made an improper “golden rule” argument during closings. Finney had requested $6 million in damages for his client, but according to his motion, Steinbach’s defense responded by urging jurors to “Put yourself in her shoes.” Finney said such an argument is prohibited by Missouri law as well as Judge Michael W. Noble’s pre-trial rulings that barred references to Steinbach’s employment at a sandwich shop.
“An attempt to illicit sympathy is a plea of poverty which has no bearing on the jury’s integral tasks as the appraisers of fault and damages,” Finney wrote. “A party who blurs the boundaries of relevancy, flatly ignores both pre-trial and trial rulings, and intentionally violates long-standing precedence of fundamental accepted arguments in Missouri jurisprudence is a party dead-set on inflaming the jury and prejudicing its party opponent.”
Finney declined further comment while the case was ongoing.
“We believe there are strong grounds for a new trial based on the argument of the defense counsel in closing,” he said in an email. “We appreciate the hard work of the jurors.”
In an interview, Finnegan denied having committed a golden rule violation. He said the lead attorney, David Bub, was attempting to say that his client was being asked to pay $6 million in a case in which she had admitted liability but was cut off by the plaintiff’s objection before he could finish.
According to the motion, Noble sent the jury into recess and, after a “lengthy discussion with counsel,” told the jury to disregard the defense’s statement. The plaintiff’s motion argues that a new trial is still warranted, as “some bells cannot be un-rung.”
Finnegan, however, said the judge had remedied the alleged error at the plaintiff’s attorneys’ request.
“At this point, it would be moot,” he said. “They got exactly what they asked for.”
Motor vehicle collision
■ Allocation of Fault: 85 percent defendant, 15 percent to plaintiff. Net judgment of $85,000
■ Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court
■ Case Number/Date: 1722-AC07367-01/May 3, 2022
■ Insurer: AAA
■ Injuries: delayed care and diagnosis of late-stage lung cancer
■ Caption: Anastasia Collier v. Andrea Steinbach
■ Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Christopher Finney and Alex Ledbetter, Finney Law Firm, St. Louis; Craig Schlapprizzi, Schlapprizzi Attorneys at Law, St. Louis
■ Defendants’ Attorneys: David Bub and Tyler Finnegan, Brown & James, St. Louis