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When Can a Judge Reduce the Amount of Damages Awarded by a Jury in a Truck Accident Lawsuit

Trucks

Although plaintiffs have a right to trial by jury in personal injury cases, there are times when the judge may step in an attempt to reduce the amount of damages awarded by the jurors. This is known as a “remittitur.” Under Tennessee law, a judge may suggest a remittitur after “independently” weighing the evidence. If the plaintiff refuses the judge’s “suggestion,” the court will order a new trial with a different jury. Alternatively, the plaintiff can accept the remittitur under protest and file an immediate appeal.

Accident Victim Faces Second Round of Appeals in Remittitur Dispute

A judge must give reasons for issuing a remittitur. This is critical to the appeals process, as the appellate court must examine whether or not the trial judge’s decision was actually supported by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which is the standard of proof in personal injury cases. Put another way, the judge cannot simply say they disagree with the jury’s verdict and arbitrarily reduce the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff.

A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., illustrates how this process works. This case began with a 2009 auto accident involving multiple tractor-trailers. The plaintiff was driving one of the trucks involved. He was rear-ended by another truck.

The plaintiff sued the driver and owner of the other truck, alleging he suffered “severe and permanent injuries” to his back and neck in the accident. After a trial in 2013, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him a total of $3,705,000 in damages. Included in that figure was $1,455,000 for the plaintiff’s “loss of earning capacity.”

Following the jury’s verdict, the trial judge suggested a remittitur on several aspects of the damage award. As relevant here, the judge proposed reducing the plaintiff’s damages for loss of earning capacity from $1,455,000 to $1,100,000. The plaintiff accepted the remittitur under protest and appealed. In 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed the remittitur, saying it “found no basis” for the trial judge’s decision.

But the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision in a 2017 order. Basically, the Supreme Court said that since the trial judge never explained his justification for remittitur in the first place, there was no “meaningful” record for the Court of Appeals to review. The Supreme Court therefore returned the case back to the trial court.

The trial judge subsequently re-issued his original remittitur to $1,100,000, this time making specific findings of fact. Again, the plaintiff accepted the remittitur under protest, and again, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s findings.

Essentially, the jury heard evidence from a vocational expert who testified that based on the plaintiff’s past work as a truck driver and his limited education, his lost earning capacity was $1,334,467. There was no basis for the trial judge to go below this number. But, the Court of Appeals said, there was also no reason for the jury to go above this number. The appellate court therefore issued its own remittitur of the loss of earning capacity award to the vocational expert’s figure of $1,334,467.

Speak with a Tennessee Truck Accident Attorney Today

As you can see, a jury verdict is often not the final word in a personal injury case. If you have been injured in a truck accident and need representation from a skilled Sevierville personal injury lawyer, contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.

Source:

tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/bornedonriela2opn.pdf

https://www.foxandfarleylaw.com/tn-supreme-court-rejects-medical-malpractice-lawsuit-due-to-expert-witness-lack-of-competency/

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