A Massachusetts appeals court recently considered a case in which a trial judge reduced a jury’s damages award from over $32 million to just $20 million.
According to the court’s opinion, a woman was hit and killed by a car that had sped through an intersection and into the front of a store. The woman’s husband sued the store, alleging that the store was both negligent and grossly negligent. Specifically, the husband claimed that because the store had experienced hundreds of “car strikes” at its stores, it should have installed protective barriers along the walkway and at the entrance to the parking lot.
The case proceeded to trial, and the jury found that the store was negligent, awarding the plaintiff over $32 million in damages. Following a defense motion for remittitur, the judge determined that the award was excessive when compared to the evidence, and ordered a new trial on damages unless the plaintiff accepted a reduced compensatory damages award of $20 million. The plaintiff accepted the reduced award, and then appealed.
The Court’s Decision
The appellate court explained that a judge has broad discretion in deciding a motion for remittitur. A judge can remit the damages the judge determines are excessive, so that the award is “within the range of verdicts supported by the evidence.” The court explained that although a jury normally determines damages, a judge can reduce a verdict of damages that is “greatly disproportionate” to the injury, represents a “miscarriage of justice,” or in cases where the jury’s decision was influenced by passion, partiality or prejudice.
In this case, the plaintiff suggested in his closing argument that the jury should multiply the plaintiff’s present economic value to her family of $1.6 million by five, amounting to $8 million. After the jury’s compensatory damages award of over $32 million, it was revealed that the jury had written a statement, stating that it hoped the store would honor the plaintiff’s life “by investing time and money in the safety of its guests and employees.” On appeal, the court found that the judge’s concerns did not support a finding that the jury acted out of passion, partiality or prejudice. However, the court held that the judge acted within his discretion in finding that the damages award was greatly disproportionate to the injury based on the evidence presented at trial. The court explained that the judge acted within his discretion in deciding that the $32 million award did not represent “fair and reasonable compensation” to the plaintiff.
Remittitur and Additur
Remittitur refers to the court’s authority to reduce a jury’s damages award, and is conditioned on the plaintiff’s acceptance of the reduced award in lieu of a new trial. In Massachusetts, if a judge believes a damages award is excessive, the judge must first give the prevailing party the opportunity to accept a reduced award before granting a new trial.
Additur refers to the court’s authority to increase a jury’s damages if the judge finds the award is inadequate. Here too, a judge must first give the prevailing party the opportunity to accept an increased award before granting a new trial. Judges have considerable discretion to employ the additur or remittitur procedures.
Have You Been Injured?
If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you may be able to recover compensation for your damages. Families grieving the loss of a loved one may also be entitled to compensation through a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit. At the Neumann Law Group, we provide experienced legal representation and can help you to develop a strategy that is tailored to your situation. Contact Neumann Law Group at (617) 918-7790, or complete our online form to set up a free consultation.
See Related Posts:
Massachusetts Court Dismisses Case Where Plaintiff Was Injured by Falling Luggage, Massachusetts Injury Lawyer Blog, November 21, 2018.
Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts Car Accident Cases, Massachusetts Injury Lawyer Blog, December 5, 2018.