Verdict Upheld as Not Excessive
A blameless driver is severely injured in an accident. He hires an auto accident lawyer. A year passes. The driver receives medical treatment. But he is not the same as before the accident. He still has pain. The insurance company for the at-fault driver refuses to pay fair compensation.
Now the auto accident lawyer must file a lawsuit. The case takes another year to get to trial. At trial, the jury awards the victim a substantial amount of compensation. The victim has won. He will now receive full compensation for all of his injuries.
But not so fast. Under the law, the losing party can file an application to reduce the amount awarded. This is known as “remittitur.”
Under the doctrine of remittitur, if a jury award is so high that it “shocks the conscience,” it can be reduced by the judge. The losing party in a recent case attempted just that.
Facts of the Case
Jesse was sitting in his parked car. The car was struck by a pickup truck. The truck was owned by the city of Elizabeth. There was no dispute as to fault. The city did not dispute that it was responsible for the accident. The city did dispute the extent of Jesse’s injuries.
Jesse claimed to have suffered a herniated disc as a result of the accident. The injury put him in constant pain. At least two doctors hired by Jesse’s auto accident lawyer testified in Jesse’s favor.
The city denied that Jesse’s back problems resulted from the traffic accident. The attorney for the city hired an engineer to back up this claim. But the engineer could not explain what did cause Jesse’s medical issues.
The jury believed Jesse. Moreover, it awarded him $2.4 million in compensation. The city argued to the trial judge that $2.4 million was excessive. But the trial judge rejected the city’s attempt to reduce the award. The city appealed.
Appeals Court Upholds Jury Verdict
The appeals court also upheld the verdict. The city relied on a prior New Jersey Supreme Court case. That case made it easier for a judge to reduce a jury’s award. Under the Supreme Court case, the trial judge could base a reduction of a jury verdict on the judge’s subjective “feel of the case.” Previously, the trial judge had to base any verdict reduction on an objective analysis. For example, the judge might compare the amount of the award in question to amounts awarded by other juries in similar cases.
The appeals court subtly criticized the recent Supreme Court decision. But it was bound to follow it. The appeals court stated that, even under the relaxed standard for verdict reduction of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Jesse’s verdict should be affirmed. The trial judge was experienced. His subjective feel of the case was that the award, while on the high side, was not excessive.
Appeals Court Made Correct Decision
I agree wholeheartedly with the appeals court decision. There is a reason why we have juries. Absent an obvious mistake, if an injured party’s auto accident lawyer obtains a jury award, the jury’s decision should be respected.
Indeed, since the ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the easier standard it formerly imposed for reducing jury verdicts.