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Kenton v. Hyatt Hotels Corp.

    Citation. 693 S.W.2d 83 (Mo. 1985)

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff was injured when two skywalks collapsed in Defendant’s hotel. The parties entered into a partial settlement agreement, and the remaining of the case, the damages, preceded to trial. Upon introduction of all the evidence, the jury held that the Plaintiff $4 million in compensatory damages. Defendant filed post-trial motions challenging the award as excessive. The trial judge concurred and granted a new trial unless Plaintiff would agree to a remittitur of $250,000. Both parties appealed, with Defendant requesting a remittitur of $2 million.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A compensatory damages award for permanent personal injury is not excessive when the damages reasonably relate to the nature and extent of the injuries, the victim’s age, present and future economic losses and costs, and awards made in comparable cases.

    Facts.

    On July 17, 1981, two of the skywalks located in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City collapsed and caused Kay Kenton, Plaintiff, substantial injury and death. At the time of the collapse, Plaintiff was in her twenties and had completed two years of law school. Plaintiff endured a broken neck thatcausedPlaintiff to have spinal cord damage, which permanently impaired her ability to walk, breathe, have children, and otherwise function as a regular individual. Also, Plaintiff was diagnosed with chronic, severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Thereafter,Plaintiff obtained a partial settlement with Hyatt Hotels Corp. and certain other defendants (collectively defendants) whereby Defendant stipulated to liability. The parties proceeded to trial only to determine damages. Due to the settlement,Plaintiff was unable to introduce evidence at trial regarding Defendant’s construction or maintenance of the skywalks. At trial, Plaintiff’s witness testified that the scene of the accident was chaotic and gruesome. Plaintiff also introduce a video and photographs into evidence. However, neither the videos nor the photos displayed images of dead or injured bodies. Furthermore, two law professors testified that due to Plaintiff’s injuries, it was unlikely that Plaintiff would be able to complete law school and practice as an attorney in the future.Overall, Plaintiff’s evidence illustrated a combined loss of income and medical costs ranging from $2,283,512 to $3,209,778. The jury awarded Plaintiff $4 million in compensatory damages. Defendant filed post-trial motions challenging the award as excessive. The trial judge concurred and granted a new trial unless Plaintiff would agree to a remittitur of $250,000. Both parties appealed, with Defendant requesting a remittitur of $2 million.

    Issue.

    Whether a compensatory damages award for permanent personal injury is not excessive when the damages reasonably relate to the nature and extent of the injuries, the victim’s age, present and future economic losses and costs, and awards made in comparable cases. 

    Held.

    Yes, a compensatory damages award for permanent personal injury is not excessive when the damages reasonably relate to the nature and extent of the injuries, the victim’s age, present and future economic losses and costs, and awards made in comparable cases.

    Discussion.

    Initially, Defendant has failed to persuade this court that the trial court should have excluded evidence of the accident scene and testimony of the two law professors. The evidence of the accident scene was relevant to show the nature and extent of Plaintiff’s injuries to assess damages. Also, the evidence presented was not unduly prejudicial in comparison to its probative value. Further, the law professors’ testimonieswere also admitted properly because a party may call nonmedical expert witnessesto testify about his or her opinion regarding the employment prospects of a disabled plaintiff. In regards to Plaintiff’s damages, the court concludes that the amount awarded was reasonable. Generally, juries have considerable amount of discretion in determining damages in personal injury cases. The test to determine whether an award is appropriate depends on its fairness and reasonableness. Some factors the court considers are the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff’s age, present and future economic losses and costs, and a comparison of awards in comparable cases. Upon consideration of all the factors, this court concludes that the $4 million verdict was proper and reasonable. Plaintiff introduced into evidence a showing of more than $3.2 million in future economic losses and medical costs. Not only did she introduce economic losses, but Plaintiff also showed the jury that her injuries are substantial, permanent, and life-altering. Similar awards have been made and upheld in similar cases. Therefore, the case is remanded with instructions that the verdict must be reinstated, the remittitur must be set aside, and judgment must be entered for Plaintiff.


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