Appellate Court Affirms Small General Damages Award in Minor St. Landry Parish Accident

In a prior post, we saw that the trial court is afforded considerable deference in the setting the amount of general damages in tort cases. More than 30 years ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court stated:

“[T]he role of an appellate court in reviewing general damages is not to decide what it considers to be an appropriate award, but rather to review the exercise of discretion by the trier of fact. Each case is different, and the adequacy or inadequacy of the award should be determined by the facts or circumstances particular to the case under consideration.” Reck v. Stevens.

The Court went on to advise that an appellate court’s primary role is to determine whether a trial court’s general damages award amounted to an abuse of discretion. Only if such abuse is found is it appropriate for the appellate court to review prior judicial opinions to determine a range of amounts reasonably applicable in the case.

Against this formidable body of jurisprudence did the plaintiffs in the recent case of Andrus v. ACCC Insurance Co. appeal the trial court’s award of general damages. On March 12, 2009, Terrence Andrus and Joseph Davis were driving on La. Highway 167 in St. Landry Parish. Jeri Ceasor rear-ended Andrus’s car, after which Andrus and Davis, (“Plaintiffs”) filed a suit for damages for injuries and property damage. The trial court found Ceasor to be at fault in the accident and awarded Plaintiffs general damages in the amount
of $1,500.00 each. The court also awarded the Plaintiffs special damages for medical costs in the amount of roughly $3,000 each. The Plaintiffs appealed the general damages award as “inadequate” for the Plaintiffs’ “soft tissue” injuries that they sustained in the accident.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal noted that “the evidence of record shows that the damage to the Andrus vehicle was minor,” only “scratches and paint damage,” and no deformity to the bumper. Both Plaintiffs complained of back pain following the accident, but for each it was only “minor” or, in the case of Davis, more “tightness” than pain. Both Plaintiffs were completely healed within three months after a series of chiropractic visits. During the trial, Andrus testified that the collision was just “a little jerk,” while Davis characterized it as “nothing big.” The court concluded, “we cannot say that an award of $1,500.00 in general damages to each of the Plaintiffs falls below ‘that which a reasonable trier of fact could assess for the effects of the particular injury to the particular plaintiff under the particular circumstances,’” and affirmed the trial court’s award.

This case clearly reflects the view of the Louisiana Supreme Court that “an appellate court should rarely disturb an award of general damages.” Indeed, the Plaintiffs pointed to no obvious reason by which the appellate court could conclude that the trial court’s award was unreasonable. In the end, the Plaintiffs’ appeal left them with an assessment of the costs of the action. While it is understandable for an injured plaintiff to want to maximize his recovery, a skilled attorney who understands the limits of the appellate court’s role in adjusting damages can offer invaluable strategic guidance about whether to file an appeal.

If you have been injured in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm today at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you obtain the recovery you deserve.