Pouzanova v. MortonAnnotate this Case
In 2008, Ekaterina Pouzanova drove past a stop sign and into an intersection in Anchorage and was broad-sided by a vehicle driven by Kuuipo Morton. Morton went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with lower back pain and a possible compression fracture. She continued to complain of pain in her back and neck in the months that followed, and she received some additional treatment for these complaints. Pouzanova did not contest liability for the accident, but she did dispute the extent of Morton’s injuries. Morton sued in district court for non-economic and punitive damages. She initially included claims for lost earnings and medical expenses as well but dropped them before trial. The district court dismissed the punitive damages claim on summary judgment, finding that the evidence could not support a finding of recklessness. During jury selection, Morton challenged three potential jurors for cause. The court declined to excuse the jurors, and Morton used three of her four peremptory challenges to replace them. At trial, the court allowed testimony about domestic violence in Morton's marriage as relevant to her claim for loss of enjoyment of life, including evidence of an incident in which she allegedly threatened her husband with a hammer. The jury returned a verdict of $5,000 for past non-economic loss and zero for future non-economic loss. Morton appealed to the superior court, which vacated the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The superior court found reversible error in the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the punitive damages claim; its refusal to grant the challenges for cause during jury selection; its failure to require the joinder of Morton’s husband as a third-party defendant for purposes of allocation of fault; and its admission of evidence of the domestic violence incident involving the hammer. The Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that a remand was in order because certain evidence of domestic violence should have been excluded under Alaska Evidence Rule 403. On two other issues, however, the Court reversed the superior court’s decision and held that the district court was correct: it correctly dismissed the plaintiff's punitive damages claim and correctly declined to require that the plaintiff's husband be joined as a third-party defendant.