In any personal injury case, there are three key elements one must show: Negligence, causation and damages.
That is, that the negligent actions of defendants caused plaintiff’s injuries and therefore plaintiff is entitled to compensation. Depending on the case, one element may be more tough to prove than the other, but it’s important not to neglect any of them.
In the recent case of Lowman v. State Farm, plaintiff was able to establish that her insurance company was liable in her uninsured motorist (UM) coverage case. However, when it came to the issue of damages, jurors awarded her $0. When she appealed the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court, she asserted it was contradictory for jurors to find in her favor on liability, and then award her no damages. The state supreme court disagreed, citing past case law precedence.
According to court records, plaintiff was injured in a car accident with a vehicle driven by an uninsured driver. More than two years after the crash, plaintiff and her husband filed a complaint against their own auto insurance company, seeking collection of underinsured motorist coverage.
Before trial, insurer admitted that the underinsured driver was negligent. Still, the case went before a juror on the issues of causation and damages. Just before trial, plaintiff withdrew her claim for loss of earning capacity. She also conceded that all of her medical bills had been paid by her health insurance company. Therefore, plaintiff’s attorneys only argued for damages with regard to pain and suffering.
At the close of trial, jurors were given a single verdict form that indicated whether they found in favor of plaintiff and if so, for how much. Jurors indicated they did find in favor of plaintiff, but awarded $0 in damages.
Plaintiffs requested a new trial, but that request was denied, so they appealed. They argued the court erred in giving jurors a verdict form that allowed jurors to find in favor of them, yet award no monetary damages. The state supreme court disagreed.
The court first cited the 1954 case of Ambrozi v. Fry, in which jurors in a negligence lawsuit found in favor of plaintiff, but awarded no damages. Trial court ruled this was an invalid verdict and sent it back. Jurors returned with a damage award of $75. Plaintiff sought a new trial, which was granted. Defendant appealed. The state supreme court ruled it was clear the jurors intended to find in favor of the plaintiff, and yet award no damages. However, the court still affirmed the award of a new trial because the injuries suffered by plaintiff clearly exceeded $75, and thus the jury’s award was inadequate.
Since then, the court has affirmed a number of other cases in which jurors found in favor of plaintiff, and yet awarded $0 in damages.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a common outcome. However, the issue of damages is not one that can be overlooked, and must be approached with as much meticulous analysis and research as the issues of negligence and causation.
Damages may be proved by presenting medical records, therapy reports, testimony from family members, expert witness conclusions, pay stubs and analysis by those who can predict your future would-be pay, given your career trajectory before the injury and more.
Our goal is to maximize our clients’ compensation in the best interest of justice and their future.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Lowman v. State Farm, Feb. 26, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
“Frivolous Injury Lawsuits” Problem a Myth, Feb. 27, 2016, Miami Car Accident Attorney Blog