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 legislative note alludes to the fact that, while the statute had on its face previously required a finding of “passion or prejudice,” this requirement was contrary to valid Supreme Court case authorities, which had embraced the reasonableness standard based on a re-weighing of the evidence. Even though this Court need not find passion or prejudice influenced it, the award of damages here surely can be viewed that way. Given the parade of experts and the inflated numbers submitted to the jury, the outrageous amount here could be set aside for that reason, if it were necessary. (See Beagle v. Vasold (1966) 65 Cal.2d 166, 179-180 [ [W]hatever manner of calculation is proposed by counsel or employed by the jury, the verdict must meet the test of reasonableness….
If the jury’s award does not meet this test, the trial court has the duty to reduce it ]; Sinz v. Owens (1949) 33 Cal.2d 749, 760 [the Court refers to a line of cases which “realistically conclude that an order for a new trial on the basis of excessive damages” necessarily is granted on the ground of the insufficiency of the evidence to sustain a verdict for the amount awarded by the jury]; Van Ostrum v. State (1957) 148 Cal.App.2d 1, 7 [court holds that, [t]he trial judge had the duty as well as the power to set aside the verdict when he found, pursuant to his own independent appraisal of the evidence, that it did not support an award of $4,000; it was not necessary for him to find passion or prejudice on the part of the jurors ].)
The reasonableness standard which governs the trial court in a motion for new trial based on excessive damages is the same standard which guides the jury in its original determination of the amount of the award. For harm to body, feelings or reputation, compensatory damages reasonably proportioned to the intensity and duration of the harm can be awarded without proof of amount other than evidence of the nature of the harm…. The discretion of the judge or jury determines the amount of recovery, the only standard being such an amount as a reasonable person would estimate as fair compensation. (Duarte v. Zachariah (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1652, 1664-1665, quoting Restatement 2d Torts, section 912, comment b, pp. 479-480.)
The law is clear: the Court need not find the jury’s award to have been the product of passion or prejudice in order to grant a new trial. Instead, this Court can and must grant a new trial if it finds that the award is beyond what is reasonable based on the evidence presented at trial. Measured by this standard, the $10.2 million award is excessive. This Court should reduce that amount to a reasonable sum, or alternately order a new trial, and only this Court has that power.
(See Part 5 of 14.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.