How can an Appeal Affect a Jury’s Award for Mental and Physical Pain and Suffering?

money_change_penny_quarter-1024x962Calculating appropriate damages for a plaintiff who experiences ongoing injuries from a vehicle accident is complex. Jury awards generally are left undisturbed by appellate courts. The following lawsuit shows how the appeals process can alter a jury’s award for mental and physical pain and suffering. 

On October 1, 2009, Patricia Aguillard was driving on the interstate when she slowed her vehicle due to traffic ahead. Jeremie Gregory was driving behind Aguillard and rear-ended her vehicle. As a result of the accident, Aguillard experienced extensive physical injuries and mental health issues. As a result, Aguillard filed a lawsuit for damages for her medical issues and vehicle damage against Mr. Gregory and the owner of his vehicle, the City of Baton Rouge. 

The trial court found in favor of Aguillard after a jury trial, determining that Mr. Gregory was 100% at fault for the accident. The jury awarded her $122,751 for past medical expenses and $450,150 for future medical expenses, totaling $572,901. However, Aguillard filed a motion for a Judgment Not Withstanding the Verdict (JNOV) in response to this award, claiming that the jury erred when it failed to award her more money for future medical expenses and general damages. The court denied her claim for more in future medical expenses but granted the JNOV as to general damages. The court granted the following amounts: $350,000 for physical pain and suffering, $75,000 for mental pain and suffering, and $15,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. This brought Aguillard’s total award to $1,012,901. 

The appellant, the City of Baton Rouge, appealed the judgment on three grounds. First, they claimed that the trial court erred in: 1. Granting the JNOV, 2. Awarding too much in damages for pain and suffering, and 3. Awarding too much for loss of enjoyment of life. 

Under Louisiana law, a JNOV must be granted when the evidence in favor of one party is so overwhelming that no reasonable juror could find in favor of the other party. Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2000-0445 ( La. 11/28/00), 774 So.2d 84, 89. In a case involving damages, an appeal of a JNOV must review both the decision to grant the JNOV itself and any resulting adjustment in damages. Smith v. Davill Petroleum Co., Inc., 97-1596 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/9/98), 744 So.2d 23, 27.

On the City’s first claim, the appellate court found that the trial court’s decision to grant the JNOV was proper. In cases where a jury decides to grant special damages (those that can be calculated with relative certainty) but not general damages (those that are speculative and cannot be calculated with certainty), the jury’s verdict is considered inconsistent. A certain amount of inconsistency can be viewed as an abuse of discretion. In this case, the appellate court found that the jury’s verdict was sufficiently inconsistent and constituted an abuse of discretion. 

On the City’s second claim, the appellate court found the jury’s award for physical pain and suffering to be excessive. Although Aguillard sustained severe physical injuries in the accident, her pain management specialist testified that her spinal injury could be treated with narcotics rather than surgery. He also testified that her need for pain medication would fluctuate throughout her life, and she sometimes might not need medication at all. 

Additionally, the appellate court found that Aguillard’s award for mental pain and suffering was excessive. Although Aguillard experienced heightened anxiety around driving due to the accident, she can still perform normal life functions such as working and caring for her family. 

The appellate court also found for the City on their third claim and determined that the award for loss of enjoyment of life was excessive. Although the court acknowledged that Aguillard’s quality of life was diminished due to the accident, for similar reasons to their finding on mental pain and suffering, they determined that Aguillard still maintained a relatively normal quality of life. 

Based on these findings, the court adjusted Aguilard’s award of general damages to $60,000 for physical pain and suffering, $60,000 for mental pain and suffering, and $10,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. This brought her total award of damages to $702,901. 

Retaining a skilled personal injury lawyer in your defense after causing an accident can ensure that the plaintiff receives the appropriate amount of damages for their injuries.


Article Written by Berniard Law Firm

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