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Grayson v. Irvmar Realty Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence in its failure to properly light a construction sidewalk bridge and sought damages for loss of future earnings. A jury awarded Plaintiff $50,000 in damages and Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An individual possessing special or rare talent may recover damages for loss of future earnings if the damages are measurable and not excessive.

    Facts.

    Grayson (Plaintiff), a 21-year-old aspiring opera singer, fell in front of Irvmar Realty Corporation’s (Defendant) premises, suffering a fractured leg and hearing loss when her head hit the pavement. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence in its failure to properly light a construction sidewalk bridge and sought damages for loss of future earnings. At the time of her injury, Plaintiff had graduated from high school and had been studying music and singing since she was a young child. She also had five years of instrumental instruction. In her later years Plaintiff had a professional voice instructor and studied under an opera coach. She also participated successively in operatic workshops, which required her to learn various foreign languages associated with classic opera. At trial, Plaintiff’s voice teacher and opera coach testified that she had a superior voice and a bright future. A jury awarded Plaintiff $50,000 in damages and Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether an individual possessing special or rare talent may recover damages for loss of future earnings if the damages are measurable and not excessive.

    Held.

    Yes. The trial court’s ruling is affirmed and modified with respect to damages. An individual possessing special or rare talent may recover damages for loss of future earnings if the damages are measurable and not excessive.

    Discussion.

    It is well established that an injured plaintiff may recover damages for lost future earning capacity. However, it is not as well settled whether damages may be awarded based on the future earnings of someone not yet engaged in the particular profession. An individual who possesses rare and special talents is entitled to recover damages for injury to the development of those talents if there was potential for success prior to incurring the injury. Here, while Plaintiff certainly possessed measurable talents, the jury’s award of $50,000 in damages was excessive. Although Plaintiff has been able to continue studying music and even has had a number of performances, she claims that the impairment to her hearing, specifically pitch, has diminished her abilities and is likely to be permanent. Her claim is supported by testimony provided at trial by her voice instructor and medical expert. Conversely, there was highly credible proof from a physician selected by Defendant from the court-designated panel to the effect that any impairment of hearing Plaintiff had was due to a diseased condition which existed before the accident. The jury could have accepted this testimony, but it did not. Any aspiring artist, singer, or actor has a highly speculative future. In determining the amount that should be recovered for loss of future earnings, a jury should consider 1) the gifts attributed to the plaintiff; 2) the training received; 3) the training the plaintiff is likely to receive; 4) the opportunities she is likely to have in the future; 5) the realization that opportunities may be limited to a few; and 6) the realization that there may be many other risks and contingencies that may divert an aspiring vocal artist from her career. Here, Plaintiff was very serious about her future career as an opera singer, but she had not yet achieved any spectacular or extraordinary recognition for her talents. Based on this, any award in excess of $20,000 is excessive.


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