A defendant who wishes to challenge a jury’s damages award can petition the court for a new trial. As this is often an undesirable path for both the defendant and the plaintiff, Louisiana law offers an alternative approach: when the trial court believes that the verdict is “so excessive … that a new trial should be granted for that reason only,” La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 1814, it can order remittitur. This option is available only if the plaintiff agrees to it, under the assumption that accepting a lower amount of damages may prove preferable to another trial. The trial court is permitted to order remittitur “only if the issue of quantum is clearly and fairly separable from other issues in the case.” The recent case of Great West Casualty Co. v. AAA Cooper Transport offers an instructive example of Louisiana’s remittitur statute as applied by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On November 27, 2006, a tractor-trailer which operated by Juan Rodriguez-Salas was struck by another tractor-trailer; the second truck was being driven by Ray Johnson and was owned by AAA Cooper Transportation. Rodriguez-Salas’s truck rolled over, and he suffered injuries to his right shoulder as a result. Rodriguez-Salas sued Johnson and AAA Cooper in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. He sought to recover for his medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering and lost wages. After a trial, the jury awarded Rodriguez-Salas $38,000 for lost wages; $120,000 for pain, suffering, and mental anguish; and $10,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. AAA Cooper, objecting to the damages award, filed a motion for a new trial. The district court entered judgment on the verdict and denied AAA Cooper’s motion. AAA Cooper appealed, seeking a reduction in Rodriguez-Salas’s $130,000 general damages award on the theory that Rodriguez-Salas’s injuries were to only one shoulder and only required treatment for eight months; in AAA Cooper’s view, $40,000 was an appropriate amount.
The Fifth Circuit, in applying Louisiana law, first reviewed the district court’s finding that a new trial was unnecessary. The district court determined that sufficient evidence of Rodriguez-Salas’s “injuries, medical treatment and recovery, and the effect of both on his work and daily activities” had been presented at trial “to reach a fair determination of his general damages and lost wages.” The Fifth Circuit agreed, noting that the record included such evidence as Rodriguez-Salas’s testimony about his injuries, testimony from doctors about Rodriguez-Salas’s condition, and Rodriguez-Salas’s medical records. Accordingly, in affirming the trial court’s judgment, the Fifth Circuit concluded that “the district court did not abuse its discretion” and that “the award [was] not against the great weight of the evidence.”
Although remittitur offers the parties in litigation a more efficient means by which to resolve a dispute over a damages award, it is still subject to many of the same limitations that apply to appeals in general — that is, that great deference must be afforded a jury’s award of damages. Only through a showing of abuse of discretion by the trial court can a defendant prevail on a remittitur action.
If you have been injured in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm today at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with a lawyer who can help with your case.