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.)
The Jury’s $5.4 Million Non-Economic Damages Award to Mr. Ward Is Excessive
The jury awarded $5,400,000 past and future non-economic damages to Mr. Ward. This amount suggests a “per year” approach by the jury, in that this amount is precisely equal to $150,000 per year, multiplied by a life expectancy from the time of the auto accident of 36 years.
In general, a jury violates the law when it uses a mathematical formula to arrive at a figure for damages. (Loth v. Truck-A-Way Corp. (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 757, 755-756, citing to Beagle v. Vasold, supra, 65 Cal.2d at p. 172.) The taking of a per-year or per-diem approach (i.e. where a dollar value is equated with pain and suffering over a unit of time) is an exception to this rule. (Beagle at pp. 179-180.) However, the use of this method can still lead to unreasonable results because, like any formula, it removes the determination of damages for pain and suffering from the realm of human experience. In his dissenting opinion in Beagle v. Vasold, supra, 65 Cal.2d 166, Justice Traynor strongly disapproved the use of per diem formulas, correctly observing that [n]one of these formulas appears unreasonable on its face, for there is no basis in human experience for testing their reasonableness. (Id. at pp. 183-184.) He concluded that [i]t is therefore unrealistic to seek an appropriate award for pain and suffering by the use of any so-called per diem formula. (Id.)
The Beagle majority addressed this concern by stating that, [W]hatever manner of calculation is proposed by counsel or employed by the jury, the verdict must meet the test of reasonableness. The per diem argument is only a suggestion as to one method of reaching the goal of reasonableness, not a substitute for it. If the jury’s award does not meet this test, the trial court has the duty to reduce it…. (Beagle, supra, at pp. 179-180.)
Here, the jury’s verdict simply does not meet the test of reasonableness, because $5.4 million is a vastly excessive figure for non-economic damages for the injuries sustained by Mr. Ward. The jury apparently settled on a figure of $150,000 per year, because this probably seemed like a reasonable enough number. But judging the reasonableness of this figure is impossible for the very reasons discussed by Justice Traynor. What the jury clearly failed to do was to adequately consider whether the result this formula generated comported in any real sense with the nature and severity of Mr. Ward’s injuries. (See Part 9 of 14.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.