You were injured by someone else’s negligence. You hired an experienced injury lawyer. Defendant refused to settle so you took your case to trial. You won – and the jury has awarded you a sizable sum. Now you can put it all behind you – right?
Not necessarily. In Florida civil lawsuits, the judge has the right to to order a remittitur. This is a ruling by a judge, usually based upon a motion from the defense to reduce or toss a jury verdict, that lowers the amount of damages awarded in a civil injury lawsuit. Typically, a remittitur is when the amount awarded is deemed “excessive” or unreasonable. If the motion for remittitur is granted, plaintiff has one of two options: Accept the reduced award or agree to undergo a new trial solely on the issue of damages.
In a recent case before Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals, one justice issued a dissenting opinion on the issue of remittitur, arguing, “Unless there is something that influences the jury outside the record, in my view, this verdict should stand.” He added, “The amount of damages in a civil case are well within the province of a jury, and a verdict is not excessive because it is above the amount the court considered a jury should have allowed.”
We don’t have many details of the case in question because the majority of 5th DCA justices approved per curiam the trial court’s ruling for a new trial on the issue of damages, meaning they did so without comment. All we have are the comments of dissenting Justice B.W. Jacobus.
As Jacobus explains, this was a case that involved a man who suffered personal injury as a result of defendant’s negligence. We don’t know if this was claim pertained to a car accident or premises liability or some other liability, but we do know plaintiff was awarded $1.9 million, which included $1.3 million for future pain and suffering.
In response to this verdict, the trial court issued a remittitur, reducing this $1.3 million figure to $250,000. This reduction was not accepted by either party (plaintiff because it was too low and defendant because it was too high). Thus, the trial court granted a new trial solely on the issue of future pain and suffering damages. Plaintiff appealed this order for a new trial.
The majority affirmed the order for a new trial on this issue of future pain and suffering damages. However, Jacobus said he would reverse and remand for reinstatement of the original verdict. He noted the jury heard all the testimony regarding plaintiff’s purported damages, and jurors have wide latitude when it comes to the determination of damages.
In arguing for the jury’s verdict to stand, Jacobus cited the 1977 Florida Supreme court case of Bould v. Touchette, in which it was ruled that jury verdicts should not be disturbed unless they are so inordinately large as to “obvsiouly exceed the maximum limit of a reasonable range.”
This case doesn’t meet that criteria, Jacobus argued.
While the dissent wasn’t enough to scrap the remittitur in this case, such arguments may be considered – and hold sway – by sister courts and sometimes by the same court in future cases.
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Thompson v. Avila, March 31, 2017, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Bicycle Accident Claim to be Settled for $5 Million, March 19, 2017, Personal Injury Lawyer Blog