Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Knoxville Does Not Allow a Remittitur of 70% or More in Motorcycle Accident Case — Adams v. Leamon

In a civil lawsuit for personal injury, you can collect damages from the at-fault party to compensate you for your injuries. Damages are meant to make the plaintiff whole by putting the plaintiff in a position he or she would have been in had the injury never occurred.

In making a plaintiff whole, it can be difficult to put a dollar figure on things like “pain and suffering” and “loss of enjoyment of life.” Speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you fully identify and understand your injuries and the damages you can claim. Fully understanding damages can help a lawyer turn a small claim into a substantial recovery.

Reduction of Award — Remittitur
There are several Tennessee laws and statutes that outline, define, and limit the amount of damages a plaintiff may receive. Sometimes the jury award may be deemed too much by the trial judge. Tennessee Code Annotated § 102 (“§ 102”) sets the rules for trial judges lowering the amount of damages, which is called a remittitur. The remedy of remittitur is designed to cure an award of damages that is grossly excessive without the necessity of a new trial or appeal.

Adams v. Leamon
Recently in Adams v. Leamon, the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville ruled that a remittitur of 70%, while curing an excessive award, would not be permitted. In Adams v. Leamon, the plaintiff, a Mr. Adams, was riding his motorcycle when his motorcycle collided with another vehicle being driven by the defendant, Ms. Leamon. The plaintiff sought damages for injuries suffered in the collision.

The jury found the defendant to be 60% at fault for the accident, and they awarded the plaintiff a total award of $317,000 in damages. Ms. Leamon’s 60% allocation came to $190,000. Leamon filed a motion requesting either a remittitur or a new trial, claiming the damages were excessive. The trial judge found that the award for future pain and suffering and future loss of enjoyment of life were not supported by the evidence. The judge reduced these amounts to $25,000. This reduced the total award to $90,320.50, with Leamon’s allocation then being $54,192.10.

Damages
Awarded
Jury Judge
Medical expenses
$14,731.00
$14,731.00
Past Pain and suffering
$10,000.00
$10,000.00
Future Pain and suffering
$120,476.00
$25,000.00
Past Loss of enjoyment of
life
$2,756.50
$2,756.50
Future Loss of enjoyment
of life
$156,204.50
$25,000.00
Disfigurement
$12,833.00
$12,833.00
TOTAL

$317,000.00

$90,320.50
60% Of
Award

$190,000.00
$54,192.10

Court’s Decision
The appellate court utilized Tennessee’s three step review to determine the adequacy of the remittitur:

  1. Examining the reasons for the trial court’s action since adjustments are proper only when the court disagrees with the amount of the verdict;
  2. Examining the amount of the suggested adjustment since adjustments that totally destroy the jury’s verdict are impermissible;
  3. Finally, reviewing the proof of damages to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s adjustment.

1. Examining Reasons for the Trial Court’s Adjustment
The court observed that the particular damage categories of “future pain and suffering” and “future loss of enjoyment of life” were non-economic damages. In reviewing non-economic damages, the court will examine the amount based upon a subjective element of the community involved. The plaintiff in Adams v. Leamon did continue to experience pain and weakness; however, he was still able to work and perform most household tasks. His only loss of enjoyment seemed to be his inability to enjoy his favorite hobby, riding motorcycles. His medical expenses only amounted to $14,731.00, and yet the award for future pain and suffering and future loss of enjoyment of life totalled $276,680.50 ($120,476.00 + $156,204.50). Given these facts, the court held that the evidence did not preponderate against a ruling of remittitur.

2. Totally Destroy Jury’s Verdict
The court noted that the trial judge’s reduction of the verdict from $317,000.00 to $90,320.50 amounted to a 71.5 percent reduction. The court recognized a reluctance to set a numerical standard. However, the court cited several cases where the adjustment of more than 70% was held to be “so large as to destroy the jury’s verdict.” The court held that the remittitur destroyed the jury’s verdict and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial to determine damages.

The court did not examine the third leg of review for remittitur since the destruction of the jury verdict did not necessitate it. Understanding damages and jury awards is critical to a case. If you have been injured by the negligence of another, it is recommended you speak with an attorney who can get you the compensation you deserve.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of car accident, you may be able to pursue remedies in a civil lawsuit. Please contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Adams v. Leamon, Nov. 25, 2013, Supreme Court of Tennessee

Remittitur, Wikipedia

Annual Statistical Report, Jan. 2013, Tennessee State Courts

More Blog Entries:
Why Knoxville or Maryville Accident Victims Should Consider Speaking with an Attorney — Al-Athari V. Gamboa and Morgan Southern, Inc., Jan 15, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Mills v. Fulmarque Illustrates Time Limitations in Knoxville Injury Claims, Mar. 28, 2012, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Contact Information