Juries Afforded Much Discretion in Awarding Tort Damages From Car Accidents

On April 17, 1968, Doris Brantley of Oak Grove, Louisiana was involved in an automobile accident when her car struck by a vehicle driven by Albert McKee. Mrs. Brantley was immediately taken to a local hospital and was released the next day. Her painful injuries included numerous abrasions, bruises, and lacerations, as well as trauma to her neck, back, and knees. She received care from a general practitioner for several weeks following the collision and then sought treatment from an orthopedic surgeon in Greenville, Mississippi.

At the time of the crash, Mrs. Brantley was 40 years old and in good health. She worked at the Lamont Glove Factory in Oak Grove as an inspector, where she earned $1.92 per hour. The trial court awarded Mrs. Brantley $5,000 for her personal injuries resulting from the accident, and an additional $1,313.85 for her lost wages and expenses she incurred in repairing her car. Mr. McKee, the other driver, appealed the judgment on the sole basis that the damages awarded by the trial court were excessive.

The principle that “much discretion” must be afforded the trial judge or jury in awarding tort damages has been a part of the Louisiana Civil Code since 1825. (Currently, the provision resides in Section 3 of Article 1934.) According to William A. Sherwood, who wrote about this matter in a note that appeared in the Tulane Law Review in 1974, its inclusion in the Code

demonstrates a legislative recognition that damages for the repair of [tort] offenses . . . are necessarily arbitrary and incapable of exact measurement. Hence, much discretion in their assessment is left to the trier of fact who can directly observe and evaluate the witnesses, their demeanor, and their credibility.

The Louisiana appellate courts have similarly embraced this idea. For example, in the case of Walker v. Champion, 288 So.2d 44 (La. 1973), the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge’s award of $100,000 for the plaintiff, an 18-year-old who lived in Clarence, who lost an eye when the defendant threw a beer bottle at him.

In Mrs. Brantley’s case, the Court of Appeal reviewed the trial judge’s analysis of her losses due to the wreck, stating that “having a firm conviction that it is the duty of our courts to take a realistic approach to the quantum of awards . . . we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Mrs. Brantley $5,000 for her injuries” Brantley v. Employers Liability Assurance Corp., 232 So.2d 825, 826 (La. App. 2d Cir. 1970). The court also found that the damages for lost wages and expenses were proper, and upheld the trial judge’s total award.

A jury’s discretion in setting tort damages continues to be well recognized in modern litigation. The victim of a car accident or other catastrophe needs a lawyer who can clearly establish the extent of her pain, suffering, lost income, property damage, and other challenges for the jury so its members can award her the judgment she deserves.

If you have been injured, call the Berniard Law Firm at 504-527-6225 or toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak to an attorney who can help.