Appellate Court Outlines Standard of Review for Damage Awards

In civil litigation, the defendant is responsible for the damage caused to the plaintiff(s) when found responsible for causing harm. This damage may be either physical or property damage. If a defendant is found to be at fault, the next question is usually to what extent the defendant is liable for any resulting injuries. In normal circumstances, experts provide testimony concerning physical and property damage, and any intangible damages such as lost wages, mental distress, etc. In some circumstances, the plaintiff may have a preexisting condition. This preexisting condition may make the damages the plaintiff suffers more likely. Further, the injury or accident may exacerbate the preexisting condition. There is a civil law maxim that “the defendant takes the plaintiff as he is at the time of the accident.” This is commonly referred to as the eggshell rule. In a recent case, Miriam Dyess vs. State Farm Insurance Co. ET AL., the Court describes how the eggshell rule relates to an award for damages.

In this case, Dyess was driving in Alexandria, Louisiana, when another car pulled in front of the plaintiff’s car. The result was that Dyess ran into the back of the other vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle was insured by State Farm Insurance. Plaintiff was insured by Farmer’s Insurances (Farmers). As a result of the injury, Dyess suffered injuries to the neck, shoulder, hand, back, right leg, and has headaches, foot pain, and numbness. The plaintiff was also awarded $103,000 in damages. Farmers appeals the decision stating (1) there was only $1,500 worth of damages, (2) plaintiff denied any injuries at the scene of the accident, and (3) plaintiff’s injuries were as a result of a pre-exisiting carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia. Farmers appealed to set aside or reduce the $103,000 award as manifestly erroneous, and that the court erred in awarding damages and medical expenses for injuries other than those to plaintiff’s neck.

The basis of the award that the trial court gave plaintiff was the eggshell rule. The trial court stated that plaintiff was an eggshell victim who already had some medical problems. But, as such, you must take the victim as you find them. The Appellate Court’s applicable standard of review is that it cannot set aside findings of fact unless it is manifestly erroneous or unless it is clearly wrong. Where the jury’s findings are reasonable, in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse. Although, there was some inconsistent evidence, plaintiff provided uncontroverted evidence that her preexisiting condition was exacerbated due to the accident. Defendant’s liability is not mitigated by the fact that plaintiff’s preexisting physical infirmity was responsible in part for the consequences of plaintiff’s injury by the defendant. It is clear that the defendant takes his victim as he finds him and is responsible for all natural and probable consequences of his tortous conduct. However, plaintiff fails to carry the requisite burden of proving causation if the pre-accident and post-accident conditions are identical in all meaningful respects. Thus, because the plaintiff provided uncontroverted evidence that the injuries exacerbated any pre-existing condition, she has met her burden.

These are the facts upon which the trial court awarded $103,000 in damages. The role of the appellate court is not to fix an award that it deems appropriate to the case, but, instead, to determine whether, based on the effect of the partiuclar injuries on the particular plaintiff in the particular circumstances which plaintiff finds himself in, the award is an abuse of discretion of the trier of fact. The eggshell rule and exacerbated symptoms were reasonable enough factual and legal reasons to find that the trial court’s award was within its discretion.

 

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