Howard County jurors who awarded Kelsey Bronner of Cresco a record verdict say they weren’t influenced by certain statements her attorney made at trial that the defense has argued were improper.
On Aug. 12, a Howard County jury awarded nearly $1.6 million to Bronner, who was injured in a one-vehicle rollover accident April 30, 2008, while a passenger in a vehicle owned and insured by Reicks Farms Inc. of Cresco. The lawsuit maintained the vehicle was negligently maintained and operated.
Bronner was represented by Nick Rowley, a partner at Trial Lawyers for Justice, a law firm headquartered in Decorah that also has offices in California. Other firm members, Rowley’s wife, Courtney Rowley, and Dominic Pechota, also were involved in trying the case. Brian Yung of Sioux City represented Reicks Farms and Reicks’ insurance company, the IMT Group – IMT Insurance & Wadena Insurance of West Des Moines.
Judge Margaret Lingreen recently issued an order vacating the Aug. 12 verdict.
She ruled the rebuttal argument by Bronner’s counsel during closing arguments prejudiced the defendant and “it is probable a different result would have been reached, but for that misconduct. The court concludes defendant is entitled to a new trial, as misconduct of the prevailing party’s counsel materially affected defendant’s rights at trial.”
A conference to schedule a new trial is set for Jan. 6.
Bronner’s attorneys filed a motion last Tuesday requesting the judge’s order granting a new trial be rescinded. The motion is accompanied by affidavits of five members of the eight-member jury that awarded the verdict.

Forewoman
Jury forewoman Karen Hudecek said it was her job to make sure deliberations and decisions were based on the law and evidence presented.
“I understood that this meant we as the jury were not supposed to consider or base our decision on anything said by the lawyers, which was objected to and sustained by the judge. There was nothing said by any of the lawyers which was objected to and sustained that was discussed by the jury in deliberations. None of the statements addressed by Mr. Rowley in the new trial order of Judge Lingreen influenced our deliberations or our unanimous jury verdict,” Hudecek stated.
“Some jurors were concerned about the financial effect a larger verdict would have on the defendant’s farm and that lowered the amount we ultimately awarded.”
Bronner, who was 15 at the time, had her right ear torn off during the accident, according to Rowley. She also suffered permanent disfigurement and nerve damage to the right side of her face, in addition to a broken nose and cheekbone, he said. Her medical bills totaled $59,189.
“At no point did I believe Mr. Rowley was personally vouching for the credibility of any witness. In the end, we worked hard as an Iowa jury and we as the jury worked together to compromise and agree to a verdict that was based on the law we were given and the evidence the judge instructed us we were able to consider.
“In reaching our verdict, I am certain that each of the jurors, including myself, followed the jury instructions provided to us by the trial court judge and that the verdict was based upon the evidence the judge told us we were able to consider, not based on any statements or arguments which were objected to and sustained.”

Sided with insurance co.
Rowley said he believes the judge has bowed to the power of the defendant’s insurance company.
“The new trial order is an injustice, but it’s not the first time I have seen a judge undo the good work of a jury. Our district judge has obviously sided with the insurance company and it’s sad,” Rowley told Decorah Newspapers.
“Judge Lingreen has made this order months after a clean trial where no error was claimed. The defense never made any motion for mistrial or claimed any irregularity until after they got smacked with the jury verdict. Judge Lingreen knows that this is an insurance company pushing the decisions and making the motions. Judge Lingreen was duty bound to review the record and evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict of the jury and the prevailing party, which in this case was Ms. Bronner. I don’t believe that judges should usurp the decision of a unanimous jury unless there is an irregularity in the case. In Kelsey’s trial, there was no irregularity,” Rowley said, noting Lingreen is up for re-election in 2020.
Rowley said when he told the jury in his rebuttal argument the defense lawyer had told them things that were untrue, the judge sustained an objection to his statement, which he said is “unheard of.”
He said the judge’s order granting a new trial is not consistent with Iowa law.
“The judge didn’t follow the trial transcript but instead appears to have just taken what the insurance company defense lawyer wrote as gospel. What this truly is, is yet another clear example of delay tactics by insurance companies in Iowa. It’s now been well over eight years and the insurance company still has not paid Kelsey’s medical bills/liens. If the judge refuses to follow the declarations from the jurors who decided the case and set aside her inappropriate new trial order, then I will either win on an appeal or I’ll retry the case and get an even larger verdict for Kelsey,” Rowley said.
When contacted by Decorah Newspapers, Lingreen said she couldn’t comment because of pending motions in the case. The defense has 14 days from the filing of the plaintiff’s recent motion to respond to it.
In her order granting a new trial, Lingreen ruled the rebuttal argument by Bronner’s counsel during closing arguments prejudiced the defendant and “it is probable a different result would have been reached, but for that misconduct. The court concludes defendant is entitled to a new trial, as misconduct of the prevailing party’s counsel materially affected defendant’s rights at trial.”
Lingreen also cited the Iowa Supreme Court as recognizing that “misconduct in argument may be so flagrantly improper and so evidently prejudicial that it may be considered by the court even though no exception was taken at the time the remarks were made.”
In the court documents filed last Tuesday, Bronner’s attorneys argued the matters raised by the defense were not objected to at trial and were not raised in a motion for a new trial that was filed in a timely manner.
“The defendant should not be rewarded for sitting on its hands,” the plaintiff’s motion said.
“There is no reason to assume that the jury disregarded the instructions it was given.”