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Collier v. Steinbach

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

December 24, 2019

ANASTASIA COLLIER, Respondent/Cross-Appellant,
v.
ANDREA STEINBACH, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1722-AC07367 Honorable Michael W. Noble

          OPINION

          Lisa P. Page, J

         Andrea Steinbach ("Steinbach") appeals the judgment entered upon a jury verdict in favor of Anastasia Collier's ("Collier") action for personal injury following a motor vehicle accident. Collier cross-appeals the reduction of the verdict based upon the percentage of her fault assessed by the jury. We reverse and remand.

         BACKGROUND

         Collier filed a petition for damages against Steinbach alleging negligence resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Collier specifically alleged she was traveling north on Hampton Road when Steinbach was traveling south and turned left in front of her, causing Collier to collide with the rear passenger quarter panel of Steinbach's vehicle. Collier asserted as a direct and proximate result of Steinbach's negligence she suffered severe and permanent damage to her ribs, loss of enjoyment of life, reduced capacity to work, inconvenience, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

         Collier began the trial by expressly referring to Steinbach's liability insurer, Automobile Club Inter-Insurance Exchange ("AAA")[1] during her opening statement. Then, in her case in chief, Collier called Susan Paglusch ("Paglusch"), an employee of AAA and James Zeman, an independent investigator retained by Paglusch on behalf of AAA, who conducted surveillance on Collier following the accident. In her closing argument, Collier continued to make repeated references to AAA's involvement in the case. Specifically, Collier referred to Steinbach's attorney as part of the "corporate team" and one of AAA's "corporate cronies" who instigated the surveillance of Collier.

         The jury returned a verdict in favor of Collier and against Steinbach, for a total of one million five hundred thousand dollars. The jury assessed twenty percent fault to Collier and eighty percent fault to Steinbach, thereby reducing Collier's recovery to one million two hundred thousand dollars. The trial court entered judgment upon the jury's verdict, and the present appeal follows.

         DISCUSSION

         Steinbach asserts three points on appeal, each of which argue the court erred in denying her motion for new trial. In her first point, she claims the trial court erroneously allowed Collier to make prejudicial references to, and present evidence of, Steinbach's liability insurer throughout trial. In her second point, Steinbach argues the court erred because she was not provided with adequate time to retain a medical expert upon learning of the extent of the injuries Collier was claiming. In her third point, Steinbach claims the $1.5 million awarded in damages was excessive and influenced by the improper references to Steinbach's liability insurer throughout trial.

         Collier cross-appeals the judgment entered upon the jury's verdict, arguing the court erred in denying her motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because there was insufficient evidence to support an instruction on Collier's comparative fault. Specifically, she claims Steinbach failed to present sufficient evidence to make a submissible case of Collier's negligent failure to keep a careful lookout.

         Point One

         In point one on appeal, Steinbach asserts she is entitled to a new trial because the trial court erroneously allowed Collier to make repeated and prejudicial references to Steinbach's liability insurer. In addition, the court erred in allowing Collier to call the insurance company's employee and an independent investigator retained on behalf of AAA as witnesses at trial during her case in chief. Collier responds such evidence was relevant and admissible because the insurance company hired the independent investigator to conduct surveillance on her following the accident which she reasonably believed Steinbach would later introduce during trial.

         Standard of Review

         We review the trial court's decision to deny a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. Echard v. Barnes-Jewish Hosp., 98 S.W.3d 558, 567 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002). A trial court abuses its discretion when the ruling is against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate lack of ...


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