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Sauceda v. Hess

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

April 24, 2018

JOAQUIN SAUCEDA, Appellant
v.
MICHAEL HESS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 80th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2013-12416

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Busby and Wise.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Kem Thompson Frost Chief Justice

         A plaintiff in a personal-injury case appeals a judgment awarding him some, but not all, of the relief he sought. He asserts there is a conflict in the jury's findings awarding him money for his past medical expenses but giving zero damages for past and future physical pain and mental anguish. He also challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting those findings. We affirm.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Appellant/plaintiff Joaquin Sauceda was riding a tricycle with an attached cart when appellee/defendant Michael Hess's truck hit Sauceda's tricycle. Sauceda filed suit against Hess, asserting a negligence claim. The jury found that both Sauceda and Hess were negligent. After finding Hess 51% responsible and Sauceda 49% responsible for the accident, the jury awarded Sauceda zero damages for past physical pain and mental anguish, zero damages for future physical pain and mental anguish, $3, 750 in past medical expenses, and zero damages for future medical expenses. Sauceda did not object to any conflict in the jury's answers before the trial court discharged the jury. In a motion for new trial, Sauceda asserted (1) the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury to reconcile its allegedly conflicting findings and (2) the jury's findings were not supported by factually sufficient evidence. The trial court denied Sauceda's motion for new trial.

         II. Issues Presented

         On appeal, Sauceda asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for new trial because the jury's findings conflicted and the jury's award of zero damages for past and future physical pain and mental anguish is not supported by factually sufficient evidence.

         III. Analysis

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         When reviewing a challenge to the factual sufficiency of the evidence, we examine the entire record, considering both the evidence in favor of, and contrary to, the challenged finding. Maritime Overseas Corp. v. Ellis, 971 S.W.2d 402, 406-07 (Tex. 1998). The trier of fact is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony. GTE Mobilnet of S. Tex. v. Pascouet, 61 S.W.3d 599, 615-16 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, pet. denied). We may not substitute our own judgment for that of the trier of fact, even if we would reach a different answer on the evidence. Maritime Overseas Corp., 971 S.W.2d at 407. The amount of evidence necessary to affirm a judgment is far less than that necessary to reverse a judgment. Pascouet, 61 S.W.3d at 616. Sauceda challenges the jury's findings of zero damages as to two damage categories that do not overlap. In this context, the trial evidence is factually insufficient if, considering the evidence unique to the challenged damage category, the jury's failure to award damages for that category is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust, shock the conscience, or clearly demonstrate bias. See Golden Eagle Archery, Inc. v. Jackson, 116 S.W.3d 757, 761, 773, 775 (Tex. 2003).

         Sauceda asserts that the evidence is factually insufficient to support the jury's findings of (1) zero damages for past physical pain and mental anguish and (2) zero damages for future physical pain and mental anguish. Sauceda does not contend that the evidence shows he suffered any mental anguish, but Sauceda argues that the evidence shows he suffered physical pain and that the jury's verdict shows the jury believed Sauceda was injured in the accident because the jury awarded Sauceda $3, 750 for medical expenses incurred in the past.

         The presence or absence of pain is an inherently subjective question for which the plaintiff bears the burden of production and persuasion. Enright v. Goodman Distribution, Inc., 330 S.W.3d 392, 397 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, no pet.). Some objective injuries are so significant that the law mandates an award of damages for physical pain. Id. Examples of serious, objective injuries that will support an award of damages for subjective complaints of pain include bone fractures, severe burns, and lacerations. Id. If the evidence of pain is conflicting, scant, or more subjective, the nature of the evidence favors upholding the jury's findings of no damages for past pain and mental anguish. In re State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 483 S.W.3d 249, 263 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2016, no pet.). The law does not always mandate a damage award for physical pain when medical expenses are awarded. Enright, 330 S.W.3d at 397. With respect to an undisputed injury that is less serious and accompanied only by ...


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