Increasing a General Damage Award in Louisiana

green-car-2265634-1024x683Life can be upended in an instant. One person’s negligent act can change the trajectory of multiple people’s lives.  How much monetary compensation should this negligent, life-altering person be required to pay? Often after a trial court determines a damage award, the award stays the same. But what about when this award does not really compensate for the injuries?  Recently, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal determined that an injured party was entitled to far more than the trial court awarded in a car accident lawsuit out of Iberia Parish.    

June Anupat was in a car accident along with her husband and four children.  Her vehicle was rear-ended by Gabriel Castillo after Castillo was rear-ended by Zachary Louviere.  At the scene, Ms. Anupat professed that she and her children seemed unharmed. While filling out paperwork for the police officer working the incident, however, Ms. Anupat started to experience dizziness and pain in her back, neck, and head, accompanied by vomiting.  She was taken to the hospital where she started to recover but remained in pain. For the six months following the accident, Ms. Anupat frequented the doctor’s office for medical treatment on her back, shoulders and arm.  

What Ms. Anupat could not receive treatment for was the complete disruption to her daily life as a result of the accident.  Prior to the accident, she was the primary caretaker for her four young children with her youngest child being just a year old.  Her husband was unable to work as a result of the accident, requiring Ms. Anupat to seek employment outside of the home. In turn, this required her grandmother to come to Louisiana all the way from Thailand.  Her grandmother could not indefinitely remain in the United States, so Ms. Anupat’s mother then also came from Thailand to care for the children. Once her family’s time in the United States was up, Ms. Anupat was still not able to quit her outside employment to return to caring for her children.  Sadly, Ms. Anupat was forced to send her youngest child to Thailand with Ms. Anupat’s family. Moreover, Ms. Anupat’s job as a restaurant cook aggravated the injury to her arm. One person’s negligence drastically altered several lives in this case.  

Before the Judicial District Court for the Parish of Iberia,  Ms. Anupat was awarded $3,000.00 in general damages and $12,757.00 in special damages for medical treatments.  Finding the award of general damages far below what she felt she was entitled to, Ms. Anupat appealed to the Third Circuit. 

When reviewing a general damages award, the appellate court must analyze the individual circumstances of the case to see if the lower court abused its discretion in determining the award.  See Lewis v. Progressive Paloverde Ins. Co. 125 So.3d 581 (La. Ct. App. 2013).  The appellate court should also focus on the total award.  See Stewart v. Select Ins. Co., 631 So.2d 599 (La. Ct. App. 1994).  Once an abuse of discretion is found, the appellate court can increase or lower the award to an amount which is reasonably within the discretion of that court.  See Deligans v. Ace Am. Ins. Co., 86 So.3d 109 (La. Ct. App. 2012).  

In Ms. Anupat’s lawsuit, the Third Circuit determined that the District Court did abuse its discretion in setting the general damages award too low.  First, the Third Circuit determined that Ms. Anupat received medical treatment for six months, yet the lower court considered her injury only lasting two weeks when determining the award.  Mr. Louviere argued her injuries were mild and temporary. The Third Circuit disagreed, however, finding that Ms. Anupat suffered physically on the day of the accident, for at least six months following the accident, and she suffered emotional trauma at having to be separated from her children.  After finding that the District Court abused its discretion, the Third Circuit then increased Ms. Anupat’s general damage award to $12,500.00. The Third Circuit noted that in similar cases, other plaintiffs received more than Ms. Anupat for loss of enjoyment of life and inability to enjoy recreational activities.   The Third Circuit found that for six months of injuries, the lowest amount that should have been awarded to Ms. Anupat was $12,500.00.   

The facts of this case are rather compelling: the ongoing physical injuries coupled with the heartbreaking loss of time with her children show that the District Court really did abuse its discretion in failing to properly set general damages. Fortunately for Ms. Anupat, the Third Circuit was able to set things right.  A great lawyer has the ability to use the concrete facts of this case to show that justice had not been served at the lower court level.

Additional Sources: ATHID PHAENGPHAN AND THINUTTA ANUPAT, ETC. VERSUS GABRIEL CASTILLO ET AL. 

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Stephanie Burnham 

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