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.)
It is true, of course, that every case is different, and that the value of an award in one case cannot be determined to be unreasonable on the basis of awards in other cases. However, the Supreme Court encourages trial courts, when reaching a determination concerning the reasonableness of the amount awarded by the jury, to consider damage awards in other cases. In discussing appellate review of a denial of motion for new trial based on excessive damages, the Supreme Court remarked in Seffert v. Los Angeles Transit Lines, supra, 56 Cal.2d 498, that, [w]hile the appellate court should consider the amounts awarded in prior cases for similar injuries, obviously, each case must be decided on its own facts and circumstances. (Id. at p. 508.)
More recently, in Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co. (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 525, the court cited to the language in Seffert quoted above, and, based on it, conclude[d] that while it is appropriate to look at awards in similar cases, ultimately we must determine the propriety of the award based upon the facts of this case. (Id. at p. 550.) The court also found that a comparison of other cases may give us a point of reference . (Id. at p. 552.)
While it is true that the physical injuries and pain and suffering are different in all cases, they also share similarities. If they did not, then jurors would have no means by which to determine, in the first place, a reasonable amount of damages on the basis of their own experience as human beings.
And finally, if other opinions have no place whatsoever in this Court’s determination of whether the jury’s award is reasonable, then on what basis can an aggrieved party possibly even discuss the question of reasonability? If individual cases exist entirely in a vacuum, then there is no possible point of departure for any meaningful review of the jury’s award. The injuries here– compared to that in other cases–simply do not support a $5.4 million non-economic damages award.
Mr. Ward presented evidence that he suffered injuries in his cervical spine and lumbar spine as a result of the accident on October 15, 2004.) He also injured his knee. He presented evidence that he suffers chronic, permanent pain as a result of his injuries, which requires him to take narcotics. However, neither his injuries nor the drugs he will be required to take for the pain will prevent him from walking, driving a car, or from leading an independent life without need for day-to-day care. Plaintiff’s own expert states: that no attendant care necessary for 15 years–assistance during this period limited to gardening, household repairs, housekeeping, shopping, errands and similar activities];
The bottom line is that the evidence Mr. Ward presented does not reasonably support an award of $5.4 million in non-economic damages. This is clear from an examination of the continuum of California personal injury cases, in which plaintiffs were awarded considerably less for injuries similar to Mr. Ward’s, and plaintiffs who were awarded amounts comparable to $5.4 million in non-economic damages had suffered injuries which far exceeded his in terms of their severity.
(See Part 10 of 14.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.