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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reduces Remittitur Issued by Trial Court in Tractor Trailer Accident Case

In a Tennessee truck accident case, an injured person may be able to recover money damages for several different types of loss, including loss of earning capacity. In simple terms, this means that the defendant has to pay the plaintiff the money that he or she would have been able to earn but for the accident.

Loss of earning capacity can be temporary (until the plaintiff physically recovers from the accident and returns to work), or it can be permanent (when the plaintiff is unlikely to ever be able to go back to work). The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to provide evidence of his or her lost earnings, both past and future, resulting from the wreck.

Sometimes, a jury may award an amount of damages that, when considered by the trial court judge or the court of appeals, was not in line with the evidence introduced at trial. Rather than start over with a new trial, the court may issue a “remittitur,” which reduces the amount the plaintiff ultimately receives as to one or more elements of damages but does not otherwise disturb the jury’s verdict in his or her favor as to liability or other issues. In other words, the plaintiff still wins; he or she just gets less money than the jury awarded.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent appellate court case arising in the Circuit Court for Shelby County was a tractor trailer driver who was allegedly injured in a multi-vehicle accident in 2009. According to the plaintiff, after traffic on the interstate slowed and then stopped, another tractor trailer traveling directly behind him ran into the back of his truck. This collision was followed by a second accident that occurred when a third truck rear-ended the second truck. The plaintiff filed suit against the owners and operators of both of the trucks, alleging that he had suffered severe and permanent injuries to his back and neck as a result of the accident. All defendants except the owner of the second truck were dismissed prior to trial. The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding him $3,705,000 in total damages, which included an award of  $1,455,000 for loss of earning capacity.

The trial court reduced the jury’s award for loss of earning capacity by $355,000 to $1,100,000, and the plaintiff accepted the suggestion of remittitur under protest. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s remittitur and reinstated the jury’s award of $1,455,000. The state supreme court then vacated the court of appeals’ decision, remanding the matter to the trial court. The trial court once again reduced the plaintiff’s loss of earning capacity award from $1,455,000 to $1,100,000, and the plaintiff filed a second appeal.

The Court’s Resolution on Appeal

After reviewing whether the trial court had erred in suggesting the remittitur again on remand, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the lower tribunal’s order on the basis that the preponderance of the evidence did not support the remittitur to $1,100,000. In the appellate court’s opinion, a remittitur was appropriate based on the proof in the record, but the remittitur should have been $1,334, 647, not $1,100,000. This amount was based on testimony of an expert witness who opined that $1,334,467 represented the earning capacity of an average truck driver of the same age as the plaintiff while also considering certain factors unique to the plaintiff (including a significant reading deficiency). The jury’s verdict represented a sum that was $120,353 more than the expert’s calculated amount; in the reviewing court’s opinion, there was no evidence to support the decreased award to the plaintiff.

Call an Attorney for Advice About a Knoxville Personal Injury Case

An east Tennessee truck accident can cause serious permanent physical injuries and even death. If you or a loved one has been hurt by a crash caused by a negligent trucker, you need to speak to an attorney about your legal rights as soon as possible. There are time limits for filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, and claims not filed within these time periods are rarely, if ever, successful. For a free case evaluation, call 865-524-5657 and ask for an appointment to speak to Attorney Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm about your truck accident case. We represent truck accident victims throughout east Tennessee, including Knoxville, Maryville, and the surround areas.

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