Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Williams v. Bright case brief

Williams v. Bright case brief summary
230 A.D.2d 548 (1997)

CASE SYNOPSIS
Defendant vehicle lessors appealed from a judgment of the Supreme Court of New York County, New York, which awarded plaintiff passenger damages for personal injuries suffered in an automobile accident. The lessors did not seriously contest liability, but raised the issue of the trial court's treatment of the passenger's alleged failure to mitigate damages due to her religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness.

CASE FACTS
The passenger suffered injuries, which, if not alleviated by well-recognized and universally accepted surgical procedures, gave her a prognosis for a wheelchair-bound life. All experts agreed that the surgical intervention available to the passenger offered her the prospect of a good recovery and a near normal life. The passenger, a devout Jehovah's Witness, presented proof that she was obliged to refuse these recommended surgeries because her church prohibited the blood transfusions they would necessarily entail.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The trial court acquainted the jury with the existence of the reasonably prudent person pattern jury instruction on the subject of damage mitigation, but abandoned the reasonable person test in favor of a reasonable Jehovah's Witness standard.

DISCUSSION

  • The court held that the state must not endorse religion or any particular religious practice, and remanded the matter for a new trial. 
  • The court held that the pattern jury instruction must be supplemented with the reasonable believer charge and that the court was not to permit the introduction of any theological proof as to the validity of religious doctrine, nor issue any instructions whatsoever on that score.
CONCLUSION
The court reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the matter for a new trial on damages alone. The court ordered that the pattern jury instruction on the subject of damage mitigation be supplemented with the reasonable believer charge.

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