When Is A Louisiana Jury Verdict Considered Excessive?

money_finance_house_mortgage-1024x678What happens if you win a lawsuit but the other side moves to reduce the amount of money you were awarded? This is the situation Marcus Berry found himself in after he was awarded over a million dollars in damages due to injuries he suffered in a car accident. 

Following a car accident, Berry sued the driver of the car that hit him, Leon Berry, and his insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company. The other driver admitted liability but contested the nature and extent of the damage Berry suffered. 

At trial, the jury agreed Berry was injured as a result of the accident.  They awarded him a total of $1.29 million in damages.  This consisted of $900,000 for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life previously, presently, and in the future, as well as $390,000 for medical expenses.  Following this award, the defendants moved for a new trial or remittitur (a procedure where the court can reduce an excessive verdict), arguing that the jury had awarded excessive damages. 

At the hearing on the Defendant’s motion, the district court held that it was reasonable for the jury to find that Berry would probably need continued medical treatment.  The district court also held that although the evidence suggested Berry’s quality of life had decreased, this did not support an award of $900,000. As a result, the court reduced the award to $400,000.  Berry agreed to this lesser award, which now totaled $790,000. The defendants then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in not reducing the jury’s award of medical damages and in not further reducing the jury’s general damages award.

When an appellate court reviews a district’s court decision to grant remittitur to reduce damages it considers excessive, it reviews whether the district court abused its discretion. See Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477 (5th Cir. 2008). The appellate court defers to the trial judge’s judgment because the district court has a better view of the evidence presented in the context of the trial. The general rule is that when determining whether a jury awarded an excessive amount, the appellate court should only step lightly, if at all. See Seidman v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 923 F.2d 1134, 1140 (5th Cir. 1991).

The appellate court first considered the defendant’s argument that the jury’s award of medical damages was unsupported by the evidence. Although the defendants argued that Berry did not prove that he would need continued medical treatment, the appellate court noted both sides agreed that Berry had suffered injuries in the accident. The court also pointed to the testimony provided by Berry’s treating physician. Therefore, the appellate court upheld the jury’s medical expenses award. 

Next, the appellate court reviewed the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in not further reducing the jury’s general damages award. The appellate court noted that the jury and trial court had heard testimony from Berry, his companion, and his treating physician. This testimony seemed to support general damages for Berry’s significant pain and loss of enjoyment of life. Therefore, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s judgment for general damages. 

It is not enough for a jury to rule in your favor and award you damages for injuries you suffered due to a car accident. A good lawyer can help you understand the evidence you must present to support the damages and reduce the risk that the court will reduce the damages the jury awarded you.

Additional Sources: Berry v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co and Leon Roberson. 

Written by Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Remittitur: Tractor-Trailer Accident on I-20 Leads to Court’s Consideration of Request for Remittitur

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