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 motorcycle accident/personal injury case and its proceedings.)
Code of Civil Procedure §657 outlines the basis for granting a new trial. In pertinent part, it provides:
The verdict may be vacated and any other decision may be modified or vacated, in whole or in part, and a new or further trial granted on all or part of the issues, on the application of the party aggrieved, for any of the following causes, materially affecting the substantial rights of such party:
Excessive or inadequate damages.
Insufficiency of the evidence to justify the verdict or other decision, or the verdict or other decision is against law.
Consequently, a new trial may be granted when the verdict is not justified by the evidence, and the court has the discretion to consider the evidence anew, and set aside the verdict as unjust. (Arellano v. City of Burbank (1939) 13 Cal.2d 248) It is also the trial judge’s duty to grant a new trial upon the issue of damages if he believes that the damages awarded by the jury are too high. (Los Angeles County v. Bitter (1951) 103 Cal.App. 2d 385.) If the recovery is disproportionate to any compensation reasonably warranted by the facts, it raises a presumption that it was the result of passion and prejudice rather than honest and reasoned judgment. (Gackstetter v. Market Street Rail Company (1935) 10 Cal.App.2d 713, 724.)
Code of Civil Procedure §662.5(b) provides in pertinent part as follows:
In any civil action where after trial by jury an order granting a new trial limited to the issue of damages would be proper, 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.
In deciding a motion for new trial on excessive damages, the court has the power (and responsibility) to reweigh the evidence:
A new trial shall not be granted upon the ground of … excessive or inadequate damages, unless after weighing the evidence the court is convinced from the entire record, including reasonable inferences therefrom, that the court or jury clearly should have reached a different verdict or decision. [CCP § 657 (emphasis added)]
In Horsford v. Board of Trustees of Calif. State Univ. (2005) 132 CA4th 359, the jury awarded one plaintiff $300,000 in economic damages and the second plaintiff $250,000 in an employment discrimination case. Defendant filed a motion for new trial. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for new trial unless plaintiffs consented to a remittitur of judgment whereby the first plaintiff would accept $194,140 and the second $98,386. As part of its conditional order, the trial court also reduced noneconomic damages for these plaintiffs and for a third plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed the issue of the reduction in damages.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its conditional grant of a new trial. There was substantial evidence to reduce the jury award to avoid a windfall that was unsupported by the evidence. (Horsford v. Board of Trustees of Calif. State Univ. (2005) 132 CA4th 359, 372, 386-390, 33 CR3d 644, 653-654, 665-668).
The Court also noted that evidence supported trial court’s reduction of employees’ noneconomic damages which included evidence that the emotional and psychological harm was of limited duration, and that the psychological injuries were not diagnosed as severe.
In the present case the jury’s verdict in this matter is clearly excessive and unsupported by the evidence. This excessive verdict was almost certainly motivated by passion and sympathy towards the plaintiff, not by the evidence presented in this case. (See Part 4 of 5.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.