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Hawley v. Tseona

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

November 25, 2014

HARLAND HAWLEY, ET AL., Respondents,
v.
EDWARD D. TSEONA, Appellant

Page 838

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY, MISSOURI. The Honorable Michael W. Manners, Judge.

Christopher P. Sweeny, for Respondents.

Michael T. Moulder, for Appellant.

Before Division Three: Gary D. Witt, Presiding, Judge, Joseph M. Ellis, Judge and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Joseph M. Ellis, Judge.

Page 839

Edward Tseona appeals from a judgment entered against him in the Circuit Court of Jackson County in a wrongful death action brought by the family of Greg Hawley (" Decedent" ). Specifically, Appellant challenges the trial court's award of prejudgment interest and the amount of compensatory damages awarded to Respondents. For the following reasons, the trial court's decision to award prejudgment interest is reversed; in all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.

On the evening of January 10, 2009, Appellant was recklessly driving a vehicle on I-70 in Kansas City, Missouri, racing another vehicle at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour, when he struck Decedent's truck, knocking it off the highway and causing a rollover accident. Decedent suffered massive injuries.[1] He was taken by

Page 840

ambulance to Truman Medical Center, where he died approximately four hours later. Appellant eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.[2]

Respondents were all family members of Decedent. Karen Hawley was his wife; Harland and Florence Hawley were his parents; and Derek Hawley, Megan Weist, and Kristin Smith were his children.

On January 25, 2010, Respondents Karen Hawley, Derek Hawley, Megan Weist, and Kristin Smith sent to Appellant's attorney a " Prejudgment Interest Affidavit" signed by all of them, along with some supporting documents.[3] Within that affidavit, they offered to settle their wrongful death claims against Appellant for $1,000,000.00. A separate affidavit with the same supporting documents was sent by Harland and Florence Hawley. They similarly offered to settle their wrongful death claims against Appellant for $1,000,000.00. That same day, Respondents collectively filed a wrongful death action against Appellant in the Circuit Court of Jackson County. The settlement offers were not accepted by Appellant.

By agreement of the parties, the case was tried to the court in a four-day trial beginning on July 30, 2012. Liability for actual damages was conceded, and the issues presented were (1) whether aggravated circumstances damages should be awarded and (2) the amount of damages to be awarded.

Following trial, Respondents filed a motion with the court requesting that pre-judgment interest be awarded pursuant to § 408.040.2. Appellant opposed that motion, contending that Respondents had failed to comply with the requirements of the statute and were, therefore, not entitled to prejudgment interest.

Subsequently, on December 18, 2012, the trial court entered its judgment finding Respondents had sustained $14,000,000.00 in actual damages[4] and that $100,000.00 jr should be awarded due to aggravated circumstances. [5] The overall award was reduced by $1,000,000.00 based upon money already paid in a settlement with Appellant's employer. The court found that Respondents made a proper demand for prejudgment interest under § 408.040 and were entitled to prejudgment interest on both the actual damages award and aggravating circumstances award. The court calculated the prejudgment interest owed to be $946,465.20. The court further ordered post-judgment interest to be paid at a rate of 5.13% per annum. Appellant brings two points on appeal.

In his first point, Appellant claims that the trial court erred in awarding Respondents prejudgment interest. As a threshold matter, we must address ...


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