An Iowa appeals court has ordered a new trial on two campground customers’ negligence claims against the business over a stabbing, saying Wednesday (Nov. 4) the jury was left in the dark about the consequences of assigning fault the way they did, according to LAW360.
Campground customers Brian Simonson and Andrew Roby, who were attacked by another visitor, Justin Jones, during a fight, convinced an Iowa appeals court to reverse the outcome of their trial against Cutty’s Des Moines Camping Club Inc. and order a new trial.
The jury had found Cutty’s 12% at fault for the stabbings and Jones, who faced criminal charges over the attack, 50% or more at fault, but was never told not to allocate fault to Jones for negligence purposes because Cutty’s was the only defendant on the negligence claim.
The fault allocated to Jones affected Simonson and Roby’s ability to recover on the negligence claim, the appeals court said.
“The instructions and verdict forms failed to explain the import of Jones’ inclusion,” the appeals court said. “We conclude they were misleading and the plaintiffs were prejudiced.”
Under Iowa law, “Jones could not be included in the instructions without explanatory instructions on the reason for his inclusion and the effect of his fault allocation on the plaintiff’s recovery,” the appeals court said, adding the jury wasn’t adequately informed about the “consequences of finding Jones at fault.”
Those consequences could potentially include reducing liability for other parties, due to an Iowa code section that says, “The rule of joint and several liability shall not apply to defendants who are found to bear less than fifty percent of the total fault assigned to all parties.”
Besides finding Cutty’s 12% at fault in each stabbing, the jury found Jones 50% at fault in Simonson’s stabbing and 69% at fault in Roby’s stabbing.
Each victim was also found partially responsible. Simonson was found 38% responsible for his own injury and Roby 19% for his. Both Simonson and Roby lived, according to news reports.
The only claim against Jones at trial was for contribution and indemnity regarding any money Cutty’s would owe. And that claim was brought by Cutty’s, not Simonson and Roby. Simonson and Roby argued that Cutty’s is the one legally responsible for Jones’ conduct and that, under joint and several liability, Cutty’s can pursue Jones afterward.
The appeals court agreed the verdict and instructions did not include enough information, saying there was “no explanation that [Jones’] fault was limited to a determination of contribution and indemnity and no explanation on the effect of a fault-finding on the plaintiff’s recovery. We conclude the absence of these explanatory instructions amounted to legal error.”
It was not immediately clear when the knife fight took place or how it started.