If a trial judge is going to mess with a Florida personal injury plaintiff’s hard earned damages award, the judge better have a good reason for doing it, according to a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals.

In Adams v. Saavedra, the Court reversed a trial court’s reduction of a jury’s damage award to a plaintiff in a vehicle accident case, finding that the reduction was not supported by the evidence presented at trial.

Plaintiff Robert Adams was injured in an accident when the motor scooter he was driving collided with a car driven by defendant Mauricio Saavedra. According to a scooter passenger, Defendant caused the accident by backing out of his driveway and into both the east and westbound lanes of traffic about three to four feet ahead of the scooter. Plaintiff sustained facial fractures as well as a comminuted fracture of the right femur, which required surgery to insert a steel rod into his leg. He also began to suffer from migraine headaches following the accident.

At trial, Plaintiff and Defendant presented differing recollections of the accident, including where and how it occurred. The jury returned a special interrogatory verdict in favor of Plaintiff, finding Defendant was negligent and solely at fault. It awarded Plaintiff $640,587.56 in total damages, covering medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for remittitur, reducing the damages award for pain and suffering by 40 percent. In overturning this decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge failed to provide an adequate reason for reducing the damages award.

Section 768.74, Florida Statutes (2010), governs remittitur (the reduction of a jury damage award) and additur (the increase of a jury damage award), as follows:

(1) In any action . . . it shall be the responsibility of the court, upon proper motion, to review the amount of [an] award to determine if such amount is excessive or inadequate in light of the facts and circumstances which were presented to the trier of fact (jury).
(2) If the court finds that the amount awarded is excessive or inadequate, it shall order a remittitur or additur, as the case may be.

The determination is to be based on: (a) Whether the amount awarded is indicative of prejudice, passion, or corruption on the part of the trier of fact; (b) Whether it appears that the trier of fact ignored the evidence in reaching a verdict or misconceived the merits of the case relating to the amounts of damages recoverable;(c) Whether the trier of fact took improper elements of damages into account or arrived at the amount of damages by speculation and conjecture;(d) Whether the amount awarded bears a reasonable relation to the amount of damages proved and the injury suffered; and (e) Whether the amount awarded is supported by the evidence and is such that it could be adduced in a logical manner by reasonable persons.

In reversing the remittitur, the Court found that the trial court failed to undertake the required considerations in reaching its decision. “The motion for remittitur spoke in general ‘buzz’ words: ‘grossly excessive,’ ‘contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence,’ ‘shocks the judicial conscience,’” the Court found, but “contained virtually no facts to support those characterizations with the exception that it claimed Plaintiff had failed to establish that his headaches were caused by the accident or the amount of future medical expenses. The original order of remittitur failed to include any reason for its entry.”

If you or a loved one was recently injured in a motor scooter or auto accident, contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine for a free initial consultation. Our experienced and diligent accident attorneys can help you to assess your case after an accident. Call the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices today at 800-747-3733.

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Capping Punitive Damages in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases – Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States

Florida Motorcycle Accident Deaths Down in 2010

Permanency Evidence and Directed Verdicts in Florida Personal Injury Cases – Wald, Jr. v. Grainger, etc.