Challenging Damages Awards: Why Courts Tend to Defer to Juries in Personal Injury Lawsuits

truck_yellow_toy_dump-768x1024It may not be uncommon to recover less than you had hoped in a personal injury lawsuit. However, challenging the amount of money you are awarded to get more is a challenging feat. A recent case out of the East Baton Rouge Parish explains why courts tend to defer to the jury when awarding damages. 

Stephen Gordon was driving his car on Interstate-10 with his wife, Melissa Gordon, in the passenger seat on the Mississippi River bridge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. While Gordon was driving in the middle lane, a Mack dump truck was traveling eastbound in the left lane. The truck driver merged into the middle lane and hit Gordon’s car. The Gordons alleged that they were injured in the accident and filed suit. They sued Paul Wright, the driver of the dump truck; Vision Trucking, LLC, the owner of the dump truck; Joseph W. Wright, Jr, the driver’s employer; the owner of Vision Trucking, LLC; and the liability insurer of the driver and Vision Trucking, LLC. Ms. Gordon then settled all her claims against the defendants, and Mr. Gordon’s claims proceeded to trial. 

At trial, the court determined that Mr. Gordon lacked credibility and appeared to exaggerate the extent of his injuries because much of his testimony about his injuries and treatment was contradicted by other evidence. However, the trial court still noted that Mr. Gordon had extensive treatment to his back, neck, and right leg before the accident, which intensified his pre-existing condition. The court awarded Mr. Gordon $15,000 in general damages and $5,092.07 in special damages, and Mr. Gordon appealed. Mr. Gordon argued the trial court failed to award him the full amount he claimed in special damages for his past medical expenses, failed to award future medical expenses for recommended surgeries, and abused its discretion in awarding general damages that were “unreasonably low.” 

Upon review, the court explained that judges and the jury are afforded a great amount of discretion when awarding general and special damages, and they are given great deference when their allocation of damages is under review. Kelley v. General Ins. Co. of America and Guillory v. Lee. Generally, the appellate court should rarely disturb the jury’s decision because their level of discretion is so vast. Further, the jury is also given great deference for its factual findings. In Gordon’s case, he offered evidence of past medical expenses amounting to $5,092.07 and $27,980.20, and then $66,032.76 for a future recommended treatment. 

In Louisiana, a personal injury plaintiff may recover past and future medical expenses dating from the injury as long as the plaintiff can prove the existence of the injuries and a causal connection between the injuries and the accident. A plaintiff can establish a causal relationship through medical testimony that demonstrates that it is more likely than not the injuries were caused by the accident. Further, when an accident aggravates a pre-existing condition, the defendant must compensate the plaintiff for the extent of the aggravation injury. 

Before the car accident, Mr. Gordon received treatment for his back, neck, and right leg, and the aggravation of those pre-existing injuries was treated in four to six months. The trial court relied on Mr. Gordon’s doctor’s testimony and awarded $5,092.07. However, the court also found that Mr. Gordon failed to prove the recommendation of future medical treatment resulted from the accident and that the expense would not be related to the injury. 

When evaluating whether the trial court abused its discretion, the court noted the jury was hearing conflicting expert testimony. For example, one doctor said that Mr. Gordon would need future medical treatment because of the accident, which was based on the inaccurate medical history provided by Mr. Gordon. In contrast, another doctor said that Mr. Gordon’s condition had been restored to the state before the accident. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion because it was simply weighing the evidence presented in the trial.

Overall, juries have immense discretion when allocating damages. This is why plaintiffs should provide compelling evidence of their damages to recover a suitable amount. If a plaintiff ever needs to challenge a damages award, it may be difficult to recover more because courts typically defer to the jury’s decisions. 


Written by: Berniard Law Firm 

Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on discretion to award damages: Injured While Receiving a Massage and a Court’s Discretion to Award Damages

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