8th Cir. Applies Clear Error Standard to Review Car Accident Case

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not every day that a garden variety car accident case makes its way up to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. So what does it take for a federal appeals court to overturn a negligence determination?

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit ruled on such a case, finding that a Michigan man, Justin Pohl, could keep his $407,000 jury award for the injuries he suffered in a car crash.

The crash, Pohl alleged, was caused by bad signage on the road. As a result, a Nebraska county was held liable for failing to mark the sharp turn in the road adequately.

Pohl suffered a spinal cord injury and was hospitalized for five weeks, as reported by The Associated Press.

The trial jury apportioned 40 percent of the liability to Pohl and 60 percent to the county. As a result, Pohl was awarded $407,000 in damages, after a reduction in his damages award by his comparative share of negligence.

The county appealed the negligence finding on the placement of the sign, the proximate cause argument and on the apportionment of liability.

Pohl also cross appealed on the apportionment of liability, saying that he should have been apportioned less liability.

The key point here is that in order for the Eighth Circuit to overturn the findings of the trial court on those issues, there would have to be a showing of clear error. As the Eighth Circuit noted, “Like the determination of negligence, proximate cause is a question of fact and the district court’s findings are only set aside if clearly erroneous.”

The appeals court reviewed the evidence presented at the district court level for clear error. In the end, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the evidence supported the district court’s findings on the issue of negligence as well as on the apportionment of damages.

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