The action of remittitur by a judge in an injury case serves to reduce plaintiff awards for damages that are deemed excessive and should be “remitted.”
The criteria for remittitur is set forth in F.S. 768.74. Likewise, this statute also has a provision for “additur,” in which a judge has discretion to add to plaintiff’s damage awards if they are deemed far too low.
It’s a key process that could significantly impact the amount of actual damages an injured person receives following a trial, and it’s imperative that plaintiffs have an experienced attorney willing to engage in every step of the process. In the case of Arnold v. Security National Ins. Co., for example, trial court judge, at defendant’s request, reduced the jury’s award of damages to car accident plaintiff from $1.5 million down to $490,000.
Plaintiff appealed to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, and the remittitur was reversed.
Here’s what happened, according to court records:
Plaintiff as injured in a traffic accident with an uninsured driver. Fortunately for him, he had uninsured motorist coverage, and the policy allowed for up to $100,000 in coverage. Plaintiff sued his UM carrier after the insurer refused to pay his damages. He alleged he suffered physically, emotionally and financially as a result of the negligence by this uninsured driver.
At trial, plaintiff presented expert witness testimony that supported his claims for past and future medical expenses. These were specifically related to a herniated disc he’d suffered in the crash. He also presented evidence that supported his claim of past and future pain and suffering.
The question was whether plaintiff would need to undergo a disc fusion surgery or if he would have to endure a lifetime of pain if that surgery (scheduled to take place shortly after trial) was not greatly successful.
The expert witness at the trial testified plaintiff needed the surgery, and that most who undergo it experience significant relief from pain. However, in some cases, patients do still suffer ongoing pain and sometimes even recurrent herniation requiring additional surgery.
Jurors decided the case in favor of plaintiff, and after deliberating on damages, awarded him a total of $1.5 million. This included past and future medical damages, past lost earnings, past and future pain and suffering.
After trial, defense filed a motion for a new trial, as well as a motion for a remittitur. Defense argued the award for future medical expenses was based on evidence that was speculative and that. Rather than $130,000 set aside for that purpose, defense argued only $30,000 was warranted.
Judge denied the request for a new trial, but granted the remittitur request. Trial court found evidence of pain and suffering over the prior three years was “limited” and that any surgeries and expenses needed were “speculative” and that the jury’s awards concerning expenses were “excessive.”
Plaintiff appealed, and the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed. The appellate court noted first that courts must always be careful in issuing remittitur or additur, because there is concern the court is usurping the function of the jury. The judge is not a “seventh juror,” and simply disagreeing with jurors is not reason enough to step in and essentially exercise a veto power. In exercising this right, there has to be clear evidence in the record that the damages are excessive or that they must be reduced or increased as a matter of law.
In this case, the appeals court indicated that not only was the trial court’s reasoning largely unfounded, but there was no insight as to why it reached the figures it did. Although recognizing there is some subjectivity to the process, the appeals court found “nothing in the record or written order” that makes it apparent that the amounts concluded were appropriate.
The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded for further consideration.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Arnold v. Security National Insurance Company, Sept. 16, 2015, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal
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