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Castle Builders of Miami, Inc. v. Quirantes

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

September 11, 2019

Castle Builders of Miami, Inc., et al., Appellants,
v.
Stephanie Rohm Quirantes, etc., Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 15-9471, Antonio Arzola, Judge.

          Cooney Trybus Kwavnick Peets, and Warren B. Kwavnick and Kelly Lenahan (Fort Lauderdale), for appellants.

          Eaton & Wolk, P.L., and Douglas F. Eaton, for appellee.

          Before SALTER, MILLER and GORDO, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Castle Builders of Miami, Inc. ("Castle Builders") and Harry Housen appeal a final judgment against them for $4,376,646.60 and an order denying their motion for new trial (or, in the alternative, remittitur) following a jury trial and adverse verdict. The circuit court case was a personal injury lawsuit in which Stephanie Rohm Quirantes, as plenary guardian for her mother, Terry Rohm, sought damages from Castle Builders and Mr. Housen following an automobile collision in Miami-Dade County.

         The evidence at trial established that Mr. Housen was driving his Castle Builders pickup truck at about 50 miles per hour in an area with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour, and that he failed to stop at a posted stop sign. Ms. Rohm, age 73 at the time of the accident, was a front-seat passenger in the sedan struck by the truck. She sustained serious and permanent injuries in the resultant crash, including brain injuries (a subdural hematoma, among other injuries). Mr. Housen and Castle Builders stipulated before trial that: Ms. Rohm was permanently injured in the accident; she incurred $947,259.80 in past medical bills; and she had a current life expectancy of 12.94 years.

         After the adverse jury verdict, the defense moved for a new trial or remittitur. The grounds raised in the motion and in this appeal are (1) allegedly-improper comments during closing argument by Ms. Rohm's counsel, and (2) the alleged excessiveness of the verdict, as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

         We find neither argument persuasive, following our thorough review of the record. We review the allegedly improper closing argument and denial of the motion for an abuse of discretion. See Engle v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246, 1271 (Fla. 2006). Ms. Rohm's counsel's statements that Mr. Housen had not admitted running the stop sign until mid-trial, that his prior testimony "was not the truth" and that he had not previously apologized to Ms. Rohm, were objected to and the objections were sustained. Counsel's statement that Mr. Housen's conduct "is not just negligence; it's horrible" was also the subject of an objection that was sustained, and the trial court provided a curative instruction.[1]

         Additionally, defense counsel reminded the jury of the improper comment during his own closing argument.[2] We find no abuse of discretion regarding the trial court's rulings on these statements or in the denial of the motion for a new trial on these grounds.

         The defendants' post-trial argument regarding the jury's allegedly excessive damages award also falls short. Section 768.74(5), Florida Statutes (2018), specifies that the trial court "shall consider the following criteria" in addressing a motion for remittitur:

(a) Whether the amount awarded is indicative of prejudice, passion, or corruption on the part of the trier of fact;
(b) Whether it appears that the trier of fact ignored the evidence in reaching a verdict or misconceived the merits of the case relating to ...

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