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What Happens When a Jury Awards an Accident Victim Too Little?

If you have been in a car accident, you may incur thousands of dollars in medical expenses. If the accident was the result of another driver’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation for those medical expenses in a Tennessee court. And while juries have some discretion in determining the appropriate amount of compensation based on the specific facts of your case, jurors may not simply disregard documented evidence of your medical expenses based on personal bias or a desire to reach a “compromise” verdict.

Appeals Court Suspects Improper Jury “Compromise,” Orders New Trial

Here is a recent example of a jury verdict deemed too low by a Tennessee appeals court. This case involved a two-car accident that took place in 2008. The plaintiff and the defendant offered different accounts of the incident. The plaintiff testified she came to a complete stop at a red light when the defendant rear-ended her. The defendant said the light was green and the plaintiff came to a “sudden” stop, causing the collision.

At trial, the defendant’s lawyer asked the plaintiff a series of questions about an alleged arrest. There appeared to be no foundation for this questioning, and on the objection of the plaintiff’s lawyer, the judge ordered the defense to “not bring up the arrest topic any further.” The plaintiff’s lawyer further asked the judge to specifically instruct the jury to disregard any suggestion the plaintiff had been arrested. No such instruction was apparently given.

The jury returned a verdict holding the defendant responsible for the accident and awarded damages of just over $7,800. But the jury also determined the plaintiff was 44.58 percent liable for the accident, so under Tennessee’s comparative negligence rules, the court reduced the final award to approximately $4,300. The plaintiff asked for a new trial, arguing the jury was prejudiced by the improper arrest questions and the damage award was insufficient given the evidence. The trial judge denied the motion, but on appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiff and ordered a new trial.

The Court of Appeals focused on the size of the damage award. At trial, the plaintiff presented unchallenged testimony from her chiropractor, who said he treated her for injuries directly related to the accident. The chiropractor billed the plaintiff approximately $13,000 for medical services, which the defense did not challenge as unreasonable. Given this, the Court of Appeals said, it was unreasonable for the jury to award just $7,800 in damages. While appeals courts normally will not second-guess jury findings, here the court said, “In the absence of any serious challenge to the charges billed by [the chiropractor] or the necessity of the actual treatment he provided, the jury’s verdict cannot be sustained.”

The appeals court suggested the jury may have improperly substituted its own judgment of what constituted “necessary” medical expenses despite the chiropractor’s uncontested testimony. The court also expressed a “strong suspicion” the jury’s verdict was “the result of some type of compromise,” which called into question not only the amount of the damages award, but also the finding of comparative fault against the plaintiff. For these reasons, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial on all issues.

Need Help from a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Juries are an important part of our legal system. But sometimes jurors get it wrong or fail to stick to the law. That is why, if you have been in an accident, you need the assistance of an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville if you need to speak with an attorney right away.

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