In the April Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter preview post, I commented on an $80k plaintiff verdict in a Harrison County car wreck case that seemed like a plaintiff win. Too much of a plaintiff win it turns out.
Last week the trial court ordered a remittitur that knocks over $30,000 off the judgment. Here is the court’s Opinion.
The court reduced medicals from $20,000 to $18,971 and pain and suffering from $60,000 to $30,000. The actual medicals proven were $18,971. Plaintiff asked for $50,000 in pain and suffering in closing argument. The jury returned $60,000.
Here was the jury’s Verdict.
The plaintiff missed three days of work and received chiropractic treatment for under three months. Much of the medicals were for diagnostic testing that was negative.
This is why general verdict forms are better for plaintiffs. The jury awarding more for medicals than the bills may have cost the plaintiff more than $1,021. It may have been the primary factor in losing $30,000 from the pain and suffering verdict.
This will cause teeth gnashing in what’s left of the plaintiff bar. But how you view this decision is a matter of perspective.
Plaintiff lawyer view:
The trial court substituted its judgement for the jury’s. This is bad for the judicial system, bad for the profession and bad for injured parties. Outlier verdicts for the plaintiff in soft-tissue personal injury cases are rare. If the trial court reverses them when they happen, insurance companies have no incentive to settle.
Verdicts of less than the medicals with little or nothing for pain and suffering are much more common. Those verdicts aren’t disturbed by trial judges. The playing field is not level.
Defense oriented view:
The plaintiff got lucky by getting a remittitur instead of the court ordering a new trial. When a jury renders a verdict for more in medicals than actually proven, you know something goofy happened. The trial court screwed up by not ordering a new trial.
The plaintiff wasn’t hurt and the medicals were unnecessary. A $49,310 judgment is still a lot more than the case would likely bring on a retrial. The plaintiff would be an idiot to not accept the remittitur.
Something about what underlies the above analysis has a lot to do with why I prefer working on business disputes and other non-personal injury cases.
The personal injury segment of the industry continues to shift to a model where cases are brought by the advertising PI mills vs. adjusters and in-house attorneys. One of the state’s preeminent mediators recently told me that he is mediating a lot of cases with an adjuster and no defense attorney.
That model is good for the PI factories and insurance companies. It’s bad for insurance defense lawyers and street lawyers.
This turned out to be a thought provoking car wreck case.