CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Supreme Court justices overturned a Cabell Circuit judge's ruling that threw out a jury verdict and established a BMW belonged to a Huntington lawyer's daughter and therefore she should be compensated for the car crash that totaled it.
In a unanimous decision filed Feb. 27, the justices said the Cabell jury was fairly determined from trial proceedings that Arden E. Fredeking -– daughter of Huntington lawyer R.R. Fredeking II -– was not the owner of the 1985 BMW 535i.
In 2003, Fredeking and her father's law firm, Fredeking & Fredeking Law Offices, sued Marlise and Bradford Tyler, parents of Arianna Tyler, a juvenile at the time, over a car crash earlier in the year between Arianna and Arden at an intersection in Huntington. They also sued the Tylers insurance company, Geico.
Arden sued over her injuries. The law firm sued to recover damages from the totaled BMW. The defendants filed a counterclaim that sought contribution for negligence on Arden's part that contributed to the damage to the BMW.
The law firm dismissed its complaint. And Arden then successfully amended her complaint to say she was the owner of the BMW.
Arden and her father testified at the trial that he'd signed the back of the title of to his daughter in 1998, when they claimed she was given the car as a 16th birthday present.
According to court records, the BMW was purchased by R.R. Fredeking's business, Fredeking & Fredeking Legal Corp. in 1985. The car was titled, registered and licensed in the state of Florida.
Arden testified that from the time her father gave her the car to the time she wrecked it, she lived in Huntington, where she kept the car and had it serviced.
However, evidence at trial showed that the car's title was never transferred out of the business' name into Arden's and that the law firm paid for and renewed the car's registration in Florida.
A police report and a post-accident storage bill also showed that the car was owned by the business, not Arden.
The jury eventually determined that Arden was not the owner of the vehicle.
Arden moved for a new trial, asking for judgment as a matter of law. In Nov. 2007, Cabell Circuit Judge John L. Cummings ruled in Arden's favor, setting aside the jury's verdict and awarding her a new trial to recover damages from the totaled car.
The parties had previously settled out of court over Arden's injuries.
The defendants in the case appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Cummings was in error in setting the verdict aside. The defendants argued that the jury reasonably found that the documents produced at trial were more credible than the testimony of Arden and her father.
The justices agreed.
"Although a trial court does have some role in determining whether there is sufficient evidence to support a jury's verdict, it is not the role of the trial court to substitute its credibility judgments for those of the jury," Justice Menis Ketchum wrote for the majority.