I. Plaintiff's Appeal
 Plaintiff argues the trial court erred when it reduced the
amount of the judgment entered against defendant by the sum of
money that plaintiff had received from third-party defendant.
Specifically, plaintiff argues that N.C.G.S. § 1B-4 does not apply
in this case. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1B-4 (2003) provides:
When a release or a covenant not to sue or not
to enforce judgment is given in good faith to
one of two or more persons liable in tort for
the same injury or the same wrongful death:
(1) It does not discharge any of the other
tort-feasors from liability for the injury or
wrongful death unless its terms so provide;
but it reduces the claim against the others to
the extent of any amount stipulated by the
release or the covenant, or in the amount of
the consideration paid for it, whichever is
the greater; and,
(2) It discharges the tort-feasor to whom
it is given from all liability forcontribution to any other tort-feasor.
Plaintiff correctly states that for N.C.G.S. § 1B-4 to apply,
there must be a single indivisible injury, but p
laintiff now argues
that she had two distinct injuries: her wrist injury and her neck
injury. Plaintiff asserts that third-party defendant alone was
liable for the wrist injury, and plaintiff suggests that the
settlement with third-party defendant related only to plaintiff's
wrist injury. Plaintiff supports her argument by directing us to
the 8 October 2003 order in which the trial court stated that "it
appears to the Court that the jury awarded damages for
[plaintiff's] alleged neck injury in the amount $4,500.00." The
trial court based this statement on the fact that plaintiff had:
(1) alleged she suffered two injuries, (2) presented evidence that
she had put her hands on the dashboard to brace for impact from
third-party defendant's sudden stop, and (3) testified that her
hands were moving towards the dashboard but did not hit the
dashboard when defendant's vehicle collided with third-party
defendant's vehicle. The trial court based its assumption that the
jury awarded damages only for the neck injury on the testimony of
an orthopedist. The orthopedist had opined that the wrist injury
most reasonably occurred during the first impact.
Plaintiff, however, raises this argument for the first time on
appeal. N.C.R. App. P. 10(b)(1) requires that for an issue to be
preserved for appeal, it first "must have been presented to the
trial court." While the record on appeal does not include a
transcript, there is sufficient evidence in the record
demonstrating that at trial, plaintiff was seeking recovery forboth injuries. She did not separate the injuries as being caused
by two distinct collisions. Plaintiff's complaint does not
delineate the different injuries she suffered; it merely seeks
damages in excess of $10,000 for medical expenses, among other
things. The trial court's 8 October 2003 order stated that
"[p]laintiff alleged to suffer from two injuries following the
wreck: a neck injury and carpal tunnel syndrome; the latter being
a condition involving the median nerve at the level of the wrist."
The order also stated that the trial court "noted that special
damages for both the neck injury and carpal tunnel syndrome total
in excess of $9,600.00." Additionally, the verdict sheet did not
distinguish between the wrist injury and the neck injury. Rather,
the jury was asked if plaintiff was "injured or damaged by the
admitted negligence of the defendant," and if so, what amount the
plaintiff was entitled to recover. The record therefore shows that
plaintiff contended both of her injuries were caused by defendant.
Plaintiff cannot now argue that the injuries to her neck and to her
wrist were separate and distinct injuries caused by two collisions.
Furthermore, plaintiff's argument depends on the assumption
that the jury concluded that defendant alone caused plaintiff's
neck injury. As discussed above, the record does not show that
plaintiff contended at trial that her injuries were caused by two
distinct collisions. Even if the jury decided that plaintiff's
wrist injury could only have been caused by the first collision, it
does not logically follow that it concluded that the neck injury
was a result only of the second collision.
We dismiss plaintiff's appeal.
II. Defendant's Appeal
 First, defendant argues that the trial court erred in
awarding attorney's fees to plaintiff. "As a general rule, in the
absence of some contractual obligation or statutory authority,
attorney fees may not be recovered by the successful litigant as
damages or a part of the court costs." Washington v. Horton
N.C. App. 347, 349, 513 S.E.2d 331, 333 (1999) (citing Hicks v.
, 284 N.C. 236, 238, 200 S.E.2d 40, 42 (1973)). However,
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 6-21.1 was enacted as an exception to this
general rule. Washington
, 132 N.C. App. at 349, 513 S.E.2d at 333.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 6-21.1 (2003) provides that:
In any personal injury or property damage suit
. . . where the judgment for recovery of
damages is ten thousand dollars ($ 10,000) or
less, the presiding judge may, in his
discretion, allow a reasonable attorney fee to
the duly licensed attorney representing the
litigant obtaining a judgment for damages in
said suit, said attorney's fee to be taxed as
a part of the court costs.
A trial court's award for attorney's fees may only be overturned on
appeal if the trial court abused its discretion. Thorpe v.
, 144 N.C. App. 567, 570, 551 S.E.2d 852, 855 (2001).
Abuse of discretion occurs where a trial court's determination
cannot be supported by reason. Id
. We find no abuse of discretion
in the present case.
Defendant does not argue that the trial court abused its
discretion. Rather, defendant argues that the trial court erred
when it ordered defendant to pay plaintiff's attorney's fees
pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1, because plaintiff "did not recover
a 'judgment for damages' from Defendant." The jury determined thatplaintiff was entitled to recover $4,500 in damages from defendant.
Since defendant and third-party defendant were joint tortfeasors,
the trial court properly reduced the amount of damages that
defendant would have to pay plaintiff by the $5,000 settlement
between plaintiff and third-party defendant. The result of this
reduction was that the judgment for damages was less than zero, and
thus defendant was not ordered to pay any damages to plaintiff.
Defendant argues that because the damages were less than zero,
there was no judgment for damages. We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 6-21.1 applies when "the judgment for
recovery of damages is ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or less."
The statute does not refer to the amount of compensatory damages
awarded; it specifically refers to a "judgment for recovery of
damages." N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1. As long as the amount of damages
awarded is less than $10,000, the precise amount awarded is of no
consequence. A judgment for zero dollars or a judgment for less
than zero dollars, as is the case here, is nevertheless a judgment,
and N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1 applies.
Although the Courts of this state have not previously
determined this issue, we can analogize the awarding of attorney's
fees under N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1 to awarding them under N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 75-16.1 (2003), which provides:
In any suit instituted by a person who alleges
that the defendant violated G.S. 75-1.1, the
presiding judge may, in his discretion, allow
a reasonable attorney fee to the duly licensed
attorney representing the prevailing party,
such attorney fee to be taxed as a part of the
court costs and payable by the losing party,
upon [certain findings].
In addition to showing that a defendant violated N.C.G.S. § 75-1.1,our Court has held that a plaintiff must prove that the plaintiff
has suffered an actual injury to be "the 'prevailing party' within
the meaning of G.S. 75-16.1." Mayton v. Hiatt's Used Cars
, 45 N.C.
App. 206, 212, 262 S.E.2d 860, 864, disc. review denied
, 300 N.C.
198, 269 S.E.2d 624 (1980). In Mayton
, we reversed the trial
court's grant of attorney's fees pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 75-16.1
where the jury, in spite of finding
that the defendants violated
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1, found that the plaintiff was not entitled
to recover damages. Mayton
, 45 N.C. App. at 208, 262 S.E.2d at
861-62. Since the jury in Mayton
had not awarded the plaintiff any
damages, the plaintiff could not be the prevailing party because
the plaintiff had not suffered any actual injury as a proximate
result of the defendants' actions, and thus the plaintiff was not
entitled to attorney's fees. Id
. at 212, 262 S.E.2d at 864.
While the present case does not involve N.C.G.S. § 75-16.1,
the principle that attorney's fees may be awarded to the prevailing
party is the same. N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1 does not specifically use the
language "prevailing party," but it applies to the prevailing party
or "successful litigant" when it permits the trial court to grant
attorney's fees only to the party "obtaining a judgment for
damages." Unlike the plaintiff in Mayton
, plaintiff in this case
did suffer actual injuries and the jury recognized these injuries
by awarding plaintiff $4,500 in damages. Plaintiff obtained a
judgment for damages and was the prevailing party. Plaintiff was
thus entitled to receive attorney's fees under N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1.
Reducing the judgment by the amount paid to plaintiff by third-
party defendant does not change the fact that plaintiff obtained ajudgment for damages against defendant.
Furthermore, the purpose of N.C.G.S. § 6-21.1 is
to provide relief for a person who has
sustained injury or property damage in an
amount so small that, if he must pay his
attorney out of his recovery, he may well
conclude that is not economically feasible to
bring suit on his claim. In such a situation
the Legislature apparently concluded that the
defendant, though at fault, would have an
unjustly superior bargaining power in
, 284 N.C. at 239, 200 S.E.2d at 42. As mentioned above,
plaintiff in this case did sustain injury, which was caused by
defendant's negligence. With the amount plaintiff recovered being
reduced to less than zero, she could not have paid her attorney
from her recovery and it would not have been "economically
feasible" for plaintiff to bring her claim. Moreover, we note that
"[t]his statute, being remedial, should be construed liberally to
accomplish the purpose of the Legislature and to bring within it
all cases fairly falling within its intended scope." Id
trial court did not err in awarding attorney's fees to plaintiff
where damages to be recovered were reduced to less than zero.
 Second, defendant argues that the trial court erred in not
awarding costs to defendant. Specifically, defendant argues that
plaintiff should pay defendant's attorney's fees and costs because
costs are shifted to the party who fails to accept an offer of
judgment when "the judgment finally obtained is not more favorable
than the offer."
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 68 (2003)
However, defendant's argument on this issue is dependent upon
defendant prevailing on her first argument.
Since attorney's fees
were properly awarded to plaintiff, the final judgment obtained byplaintiff was more favorable than defendant's $3,000.00 offer of
judgment. The trial court found the judgment to be $13,382.65,
which was comprised of $4,500 awarded by the jury, $7,500 in
attorney's fees, and $1,382.65 in costs.
Our Supreme Court has
construed "judgment finally obtained" to be
"the amount ultimately and finally
the plaintiff from the court which serves as
the measuring stick for purposes of Rule 68.
For these reasons, we conclude that, within
the confines of Rule 68, 'judgment finally
obtained' means the amount ultimately entered
as representing the final judgment, i.e., the
jury's verdict as modified by any applicable
adjustments, by the respective court in the
particular controversy, not simply the amount
of the jury's verdict."
Roberts v. Swain
, 353 N.C. 246
, 249, 538 S.E.2d 566, 568 (2000)
(quoting Poole v. Miller
, 342 N.C. 349
, 353, 464 S.E.2d 409, 411
). Attorney's fees are properly included when calculating
the amount of the final judgment.
, 353 N.C. at
538 S.E.2d at 568.
The trial court properly found that "[t]he
judgment of $13,382.65, exclusive of interest, exceeds the offer of
judgment of [$3,000] even if reduced by $5,000.00 paid by the
The trial court did not err in awarding
attorney's fees and costs to plaintiff and in denying them to
Dismissed in part and affirmed in part.
Judges McCULLOUGH and ELMORE concur.
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