Citation. Chapman v. N.Y. State Div. for Youth, 546 F.3d 230, Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P29,644, 2008-2 Trade Cas. (CCH) P76,337 (2d Cir. N.Y. Oct. 14, 2008)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Plaintiffs were the driver of a car, Keva Richardson (Richardson) and the passenger, Ann McGregor (McGregor)(Plaintiffs). The car was stuck by a semi-trailer driven by the Defendant, Chapman, an employee of Tandem/Carrier (Defendants). A directed verdict was entered on behalf of Plaintiffs in regard to liability. Defendants appeal the jury’s assessment of damages.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Courts may order a remittitur of damages when a jury’s assessment of damages is excessive based on the evidence.
While the Plaintiffs were stopped at a traffic light, their car was struck by a semi-trailer driven by Chapman, an employee of Tandem/Carrier. Plaintiff Keva Richardson suffered incomplete quadriplegia as a result of the accident. Plaintiff Ann McGregor suffered a laceration on her forehead which left a slight scar. The trial court directed a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs on the question of liability. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Richardson and McGregor in the amounts of $22,358,814 and $102,215 respectively. The intermediate court rejected Defendants’ challenges to the amounts of damages.
Was the intermediate appellate court incorrect in determining that the damages awarded by the jury were excessive?
Yes. Judgment of the appellate court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part.
* Defendants first challenge testimony introduced by Richardson concerning the calculation of the present value of her future economic losses. Defendants claim that the expert, Professor Linke, used non-neutral, actual figures in his description of present cash value. Professor Linke used a differential between two rates, computing an upper bound and a lower bound. The Court concluded that Professor Linke’s computations did not undercompensate or overcompensate Richardson.
* Defendants also argue that the sum of the future medical costs found by the jury, is not supported by the evidence because it exceeded the larger of the two figures provided by Professor Linke. Richardson argues in response that the larger award may be attributable to expenses not specifically included in Professor Linke’s calculations. The Court found that the award of $1.5 million, more than the higher of the two figures, was excessive and that it is appropriate to reduce this amount by $1 million by way of remittitur. The court did not agree with Defendants that the remainder of the award of damages shocks the conscious such as to force this Court to reduce said amount.
* Defendants also contend that the jury’s award of damages to Mrs. McGregor is excessive. Mrs. McGregor was not seriously injured in the accident, incurring only a laceration on her forehead that left a slight scar. The Court believes that an award for $100,000 is excessive based on these facts, and reduces said amount to $50,000.
The dissenting judge concurs with the general opinion of the majority, disagreeing only with the majority’s remittitur of Mrs. Richardson’s and Mrs. McGregor’s damages. In regard to Mrs. Richardson, Professor Linke’s calculations represented only Mrs. Richardson’s minimum care needs. The jury should have been allowed to arrive at a higher value based on the evidence. In regard to Mrs. McGregor, the majority’s remittitur of her pain and suffering award is arbitrary. In both instances the majority substituted its own subjective judgment for the jury’s evaluation of the evidence.
The majority is hesitant to substitute its’ opinion for that of the trier of fact in determining damages. Because the determination of damages is a question for the trier of fact, the court will only issue a remittitur if the damages shock the judicial conscious.