Friday, October 19, 2012

Wassell v. Adams case brief

Wassell v. Adams (1989)
865 F.2d 849

Procedural History
•    Plaintiff motel guest challenged the decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which found that defendant motel owners were negligent and that their negligence was the proximate cause of an assault on plaintiff but reduced substantially the damage award based on a finding that plaintiff was contributorily negligent.

•    Plaintiff motel guest was raped in her motel room by a man who she let into her room late at night for a glass of water. Plaintiff filed an action against defendant motel owners alleging that defendants were negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous nature of the neighborhood or take precautions to protect her against the assault. The district court jury found that defendants were negligent and assessed damages of $ 850,000, but in addition found that plaintiff had also been negligent and that her negligence was 97 percent to blame for the attack. The jury awarded only $ 25,500 in damages. The district court judge denied plaintiff’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a motion for a new trial.
•    On appeal, the court affirmed. The court held that defendants’ conduct was not willful and wanton such that plaintiff’s negligence was irrelevant. The court also held that the trial judge did not abuse its discretion in determining that the jury’s verdict was not against the clear weight of the evidence.

•    A jury’s finding of comparative negligence will not be disturbed unless clearly contrary to legal standards.

•    The federal standard is that a new trial can be granted only when the jury’s verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, and the court of appeals can reverse only when persuaded that in applying this standard the district judge abused his discretion.

•    The court affirmed, holding that defendants were negligent but not guilty of willful and wanton conduct and that the trial judge did not abuse its discretion in finding that the jury’s verdict that plaintiff motel guest was contributorily negligent was not against the clear weight of the evidence.

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