What happens when a final judgment from a court lacks precise language as to the damages you should be awarded? The First Circuit Court of Appeals answers this question and explains the importance of precision and certainty in all civil case language.
While attempting to break up a fight between his friend Christopher and Trevor Wilson in early October of 2007, Ryan Martinez, who was a patron at Chevy’s Inc. (“Chevy’s), was struck in the face. Around a year later on February 29, 2008, Martinez wanted Wilson, Chevy’s and their respective insurers (“defendants”) to pay for the injury her received from the fight. Martinez claimed that Wilson punched him in the left cheek, resulting in a fracture that required his jaw to be wired shut for around eight (8) weeks. Martinez lost 30 pounds due to a lack of solid food, which prevented him from working and forced him to drop two classes he was enrolled in. His main assertion was that Wilson was liable for battery, entitling him to damages from the incident.
At the trial court level, the court found in favor of Martinez and awarded him special and general damages that were to be paid by the defendants. The court found in favor of Martinez and against Wilson and awarded damages (special and general) to Martinez for $35,128.66.
Wilson appealed, believing the trial court erred in their failure to find that Martinez committed an intentional tort and the incorrect award of $35,128.66.
Wilson’s contention was the trial court should have apportioned fault to Martinez and the other actors involved, as well as seeing that Wilson acted in self-defense.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals examined the case to determine whether the trial court’s final judgment was proper. Per the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, article 1918 states that “[ a] final judgment shall be identified as such by appropriate language,” which is precise, definite, and certain. The court noted that any amount of the recovery awarded to a party by a judgment must be stated with certainty so that a third person can determine the amount owed without having to consult other sources.
The appellate court agreed with the defendants, holding the trial court’s judgment for awarding damages of $35,128.66 was not stated with certainty and precision. The amount was subject to a “credit for any restitution … previously paid … in connection with this matter,” but that amount of credit would have to be supported by references to extrinsic sources. Because of this ambiguous language, the court ruled the final judgment was invalid and dismissed the appeal.
The process of any personal injury lawsuit can be long and tiring. However, the language of a final judgment must be clear and free of ambiguity. When dealing with appeals, specifically for this reason, work with a skilled attorney to get you the best and correct final outcome you deserve.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli
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