When cases are appealed, the appeals court must grant a great deal of deference to the lower court as the fact-finder. The lower court sees both parties at trial and deals extensively with all of the circumstances of the case. The appeals court, however, may see the parties, but does not listen to testimony or review the facts nearly as extensively as the lower court. Often, the only facts that are presented are those in the record of the lower court. Where the lower court has leeway to find additional facts, the appeals court has no such ability. However, the appeals court does have the discretion to adjust findings of the lower court should they find that the lower court’s determination is not supported by the evidence in the record. Damages are generally vulnerable to changes at the appeals level.
Deference to the trial court may occasionally produce some results that one might question. For example, in a case appealed from the Abbeville City Court in the parish of Vermillion, the plaintiff, who was also the sole witness, and evidence seemed questionable, but because the lower court found in her favor, the appeals court had to defer to the lower court’s version of the facts. In that case, the plaintiff sought damages related to a car accident. The question of fault in the car accident was clearly on the other driver, but the issue in the case revolved around the plaintiff’s request for damages related to her injuries.
The plaintiff was involved in at least six car accidents in the past twenty years. The two most recent occurrences, however, were the issue in this case. The first accident involved the other driver in question. The second accident occurred one month later; she was at fault and it was much more serious because the air bag deployed in the second crash, but not in the first. Nonetheless, the plaintiff attributed back pain, neck pains and severe headaches to the first accident, which was not her fault.
The plaintiff presented conflicting medical evidence, her own testimony did not match previous testimony or the medical records and she suffered several other issues including high blood pressure, general anxiety, major depression, and chronic back pain. The court explained that “[s]he was taking four Lortab pills each day in addition to a myriad of other medication.” She testified that her headaches were so severe that she even had trouble walking, but none of her doctors noted this type of severity. Additionally, the court noted that the plaintiff left the hospital following the second accident because she “believed the hospital [was] ‘an animal hospital.’” Finally, the plaintiff was very hostile at the trial, and when the defense attorney asked in-depth about her headaches on cross-examination, she replied, “I want to jump this man!”
Despite signs concerning the validity of the plaintiff’s claims, the lower court awarded her damages for back pain, headaches, neck pain, and special damages for past medical treatment – a total of $8,500.00. The appeals court explained that “the trial court found [the plaintiff] to be a credible witness. Accordingly, we must afford great deference to the trial court’s determination that the testimony she provided was true.” The court then examined the damages individually.
The court found that the plaintiff did mention her headaches and neck pain prior to the second accident, so it is plausible that those two injuries did result from the first accident. Therefore, the court sustained the damages for her neck and headaches. However, the court notes that the plaintiff did not complain about her increased back pain until after the second accident, so she should not be awarded damages related to her back pain because they may have resulted from the second accident. Accordingly, the court decreased her award of damages for past medical treatment that related to the back pain as well. In total then, the plaintiff’s award was decreased to $5560.00.
Great deference to the lower court means that the initial trial is extremely important, even if there is an opportunity to appeal. You need an experienced attorney to present a convincing case to the trial court.
Contact The Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 today so we can begin development of your legal claim.