Can A Judge Alter A Jury’s Verdict In A Personal Injury Case?
In a personal injury case, it is typically left to the jury to decide the amount of damages that a negligent defendant owes to the plaintiff. That said, Florida law does permit the court to decrease or increase the jury’s award–known as remittitur and additur, respectively–if the judge concludes the verdict was “excessive or inadequate” based on a number of factors. If the party affected by the remittitur or additur disagrees with the judge’s decision, they can ask for a new trial on the issue of damages. Or they can appeal.
Florida Appeals Court Reverses Additional Award of $225,000 to Injured Construction Worker
Here is a recent Florida case, Kocik v. Rodriguez, where the parties opted for an appeal. This case involves a construction worker injured on a home renovation project. The defendant was the homeowner. According to court records, the defendant decided to run his project without hiring a licensed contractor or even bothering to obtain proper building permits. The defendant then left the country, leaving effectively nobody in charge of the construction site.
The plaintiff was tasked with climbing a ladder to remove some electrical conduit in the ceiling of the house. The plaintiff was told the power was off. It was not. So when the plaintiff touched the electrical conduit, he received a shock, fell off the ladder, and fractured the femur in his leg, which required surgery and three months of physical therapy.
A jury awarded the plaintiff $81,000 in damages for his past and future medical bills and an additional $25,000 for his past and future pain and suffering. Following this verdict, the plaintiff moved for an additur. He argued that $25,000 was “grossly inadequate compared to awards” in similar Florida personal injury cases where the victim sustained a broken femur. The plaintiff said an award of $250,000 would be more inline with those cases.
Over the defense’s objections, the judge granted additur, adding an additional $225,000 to the jury’s verdict for pain and suffering, bringing the total award under that heading to $250,000. The defense invoked its right to ask for a new trial on damages and filed an appeal.
The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant that the judge’s actions were improper under the circumstances. The key legal question was whether the jury’s $25,000 award for pain and suffering “bore a reasonable relationship” to the evidence presented at trial. Here, the appellate court said it did. More precisely, the jury was presented with “conflicting evidence” on the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s post-accident pain and suffering and it concluded that $25,000 was a reasonable amount. The trial judge’s role was not to re-weigh the evidence, the Fourth District said, but rather to ensure there was some reasonable basis for the jury’s decision.
Contact a Florida Workplace Accident Attorney Today
Even when a defendant is clearly at-fault for causing an accident, disputes over the amount of damages may still require extensive litigation. That is why it is critical to work with an experienced Delray Beach personal injury lawyer who will zealously represent your interests throughout the trial and appeals process. Contact the Leifer Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.