What Happens If the Judge Disagrees With a Jury’s Personal Injury Award?
If you file a personal injury lawsuit, you have the right to have a jury decide your case, both with respect to the defendant’s liability and the amount of any damages you are owed. A judge is not supposed to simply substitute his or her own opinions for that of the jury. This does not mean, however, that a judge can never reduce a personal injury award.
Judge Reduces Verdict Over 60 Percent in Spa Negligence Case
Consider a recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville. The plaintiff in a successful personal injury case was awarded $125,000 in damages by the jury. The trial judge reduced the award to just $47,800. The Court of Appeals allowed the lower award to stand.
In this particular case, the defendant’s liability was never at issue. The plaintiff went to the defendant’s spa for a facial. During the treatment, the plaintiff’s face was burned. The defendant conceded it was negligent, so the only issue for the jury to decide was the amount of damages.
As noted above, the jury arrived at a figure of $125,000. The defendant then asked for a “remittitur,” which is the legal term for a judge-ordered reduction in the jury’s verdict. The judge agreed to grant a remittitur and issued a written decision explaining her reasons.
The judge first noted that only about 7 percent of the jury’s $125,000 award applied to the plaintiff’s “economic damages,” i.e. her out-of-pocket financial losses. These damages included the cost of doctor’s visits, as well as various medications and other products used to treat her facial injuries.
The majority of the jury’s award was therefore intended to compensate the plaintiff for her non-economic damages, the judge reasoned. Typically such damages include pain and suffering–both physical and mental–as well as the impact of the plaintiff’s disfigurement and here accompanying “loss of enjoyment of life.” Here, the judge noted the jury largely based its award on the plaintiff’s own testimony, which the judge found less convincing.
For example, the judge said in her ruling that she “had the opportunity to sit next to [the plaintiff]” during her testimony, and she “was unable to identify any disfigurement.” The judge also said the plaintiff experienced no “lifestyle change” beyond the fact she had to spend more time each day applying makeup and sunscreen. While the plaintiff was still “entitled to some damages” for her suffering, the judge concluded the “jury verdict award is grossly disproportional to the injury sustained.”
The plaintiff understandably appealed the judge’s decision to cut her damage award by over 60 percent. But the Court of Appeals said the trial judge acted within the scope of her authority. While a judge may not use remittitur to “totally destroy” a jury’s verdict, the appeals court said that was not the case here. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found the “trial court’s reasoning sound.”
Need Help From a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney?
Winning a jury verdict is often just the first step in securing a personal injury award. This is why you need to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer if you plan to sue someone for negligence. Contact the offices of Fox Farley Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, today if you need help with any type of personal injury claim.