The following blog entry is written from a defendant’s position after a jury trial verdict for plaintiff. Reviewing this kind of briefing should help potential plaintiffs and clients better understand how parties in a personal injury case present such issues to the court.
(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this auto accident/personal injury case and its proceedings.)
This Court Is the Only Forum in which Defendants Can Realistically Seek a New Trial Based on Excessive Damages Awarded by the Jury
As discussed above, while this Court is able to re-weigh evidence and determine whether damages are excessive based on a standard of reasonableness, the court of appeal is governed by a far different standard. That means if this Court denied this motion, the court of appeal could find the jury’s award excessive only if it found the amount of the award was so high as to clearly have been the result of passion or prejudice on the part of the jury. (Seffert v. Los Angeles Transit Lines, supra, 56 Cal.2d at p. 507.)
The inability of the court of appeal to re-weigh evidence gives rise to differing standards of review between it and this Court. As Witkin explains, The appellate court does not weigh the evidence on damages, and will reverse a judgment on appeal only if no substantial evidence supports the award. But the trial judge is not bound by the rule of conflicting evidence and may grant a new trial if the award is against the weight of the credible evidence. (8 Witkin Cal. Procedure 4th (2002) sec. 37, p.542.) Necessarily, the court of appeal accords a great deal of weight to the finding of the trial court, when, after a re-weighing of the evidence, the trial court has concluded that the jury’s verdict is reasonable. (See Rufo v. Simpson (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 573, 614-615.)
Accordingly, as a practical matter, the trial court is almost always the only forum in which an aggrieved defendant can seek relief from an excessive award of damages. Indeed, as the court remarked in Dirosario v. Havens (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 1224, [o]ur power over excessive damages exists only when the facts are such that the excess appears as a matter of law, or is such as to suggest at first blush, passion, prejudice, or corruption on the part of the jury. Practically, the trial court must bear the whole responsibility in every case.’ (Id. at p. 1240, quoting Bond v. United Railroads (1911) 159 Cal. 270, 286.)
The import of these authorities is clear. When faced with a motion for new trial based on excessive damages, this Court must deny the motion only if it affirmatively approves of the amount awarded by the jury. For if it does deny, then the defendant will almost certainly have lost forever its right to challenge the excessive amount of the award. This Court should exercise that power here. (See Part 6 of 14.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.