The following blog entry is written from a defendant’s position after a jury verdict for plaintiff. Reviewing this kind of briefing should help potential plaintiffs and clients better understand how parties in personal injury cases 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 bus accident/brain injury case and its proceedings.)
A NEW TRIAL IS WARRANTED BECAUSE THE DAMAGE AWARD IS EXCESSIVE.
This court has the explicit ability to grant a new trial based upon [e]xcessive. . . damages. (Code Civ. Proc., § 657, subd. 5.) The court’s discretion is particularly broad when it comes to excessive damage awards. The trial judge not only has the discretion to grant a new trial on the ground of excessive damages, but it is his duty to do so, or to provide for a reduction of the verdict, if under the evidence he believes it to be too large. (Collins v. Lucky Markets, Inc. (1969) 274 Cal.App.2d 645, 652; accord Handelman v. Victor Equipment Co. (1971) 21 Cal.App.3d 902, 909.) If the trial court concludes the jury awarded excessive damages, it may grant a new trial on liability as well as damages. (Collins v. Lucky Markets, Inc., supra, 274 Cal.App.2d 645, 649; accord, Widener v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (1977) 75 Cal.App.3d 415, 443; see Code Civ. Proc. § 657, subd. 5.)
Alternatively, if the court finds excessive damages, it may order a remittitur in an amount that the court in its independent judgment determines from the evidence to be fair and reasonable and condition the denial of a new trial on plaintiffs’ acceptance of that reduced sum. (Code Civ. Proc., § 662.5.) In ruling on a motion for new trial for excessive damages, the trial judge sits as an independent trier of fact, not in an appellate capacity. (Neal v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1978) 21 Cal.3d 910, 933.) This role as a fact finder is conferred on the trial court by Code of Civil Procedure section 662.5.
CCP section 662.5 provides in pertinent part that a new trial limited to the issue of damages would be proper after a jury trial, the trial court may in its discretion:. . .(b) If the ground for granting a new trial is excessive damages, make its order granting the new trial subject to the condition that the motion for a new trial is denied if the party in whose favor the verdict has been rendered consents to a reduction of so much thereof as the court in its independent judgment determines from the evidence to be fair and reasonable.
The trial judge has a positive duty to keep the verdict in line with the facts when the matter is presented to him on motion for a new trial. (Thompson v. John Strona & Sons (1970) 5 Cal.App.3d 705, 711.) It is fundamental that damages which are speculative, remote, imaginary, contingent, or merely possible cannot serve as a legal basis for recovery. (Earp v. Nobmann (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 270, 294, disapproved on other grounds; Silberg v. Anderson (1990) 50 Cal.3d 205.) (See Part 9 of 11.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.