Plaintiffs were driving in a car and stopped at a stop light, when they were rear-ended by defendant driving his semi-truck.
Richardson, who was driving, was 23-years-old, had a bachelor's in elementary education, and was working as a flight attendant before going back to earn a post-graduate in education. In the accident she received a fracture in her C5 vertebra, which damaged her spinal cord and left her a quadriplegic. She only retained gross motor skills in her arms, was left confined to a wheelchair, was paralyzed in her chest and abdomen, has pain in her legs and shoulders, has restrictive pulmonary disease, has no control over her bladder or bowel functions, and is at risk for bladder infections, pneumonia, and pressure ulcers. She also suffered a number of facial injuries in the accident. Some of these scars were repaired through plastic surgery, but others remain.
McGregor, Richardson's passenger, was a fellow flight attendant. She only suffered only a forehead laceration with minimal scarring, and only needed about two weeks off work.
At the trial, the judge directed verdict in favor of the plaintiffs on liability. Determining just damages, the jury returned verdicts of $22,358,814 for Richardson and $102,215 for McGregor.
The jury awarded Richardson a total of $22,358,814 in damages, divided among the following six elements:
$258,814 for past medical care;
$11,000,000 for future medical care;
$900,000 for past and future lost earnings;
$3,500,000 for disability;
$2,100,000 for disfigurement; and
$4,600,000 for pain and suffering.
McGregor's award covered her medical expenses and lost wages, but she received an additional $100,000 for pain and suffering.
The intermediate appellate court rejected the defendants' challenges to the amounts of damages awarded by the jury.
Were plaintiff's damages awarded excessive?
Plaintiffs' expert witness, Professor Linke, only calculated a range of values for Richardson's future economic losses. He did not know exact future growth and inflation rates.
The damages awarded to both plaintiffs are excessive. Specifically, the estimate of Richardson's future medical costs being $11 million is not supported by the evidence, for it is larger than even the upper bound of Professor Linke's range. This shows the jury did not determine damages properly. McGregor getting $100,000 for pain and suffering was also excessive.
Remittitur can be granted when the award:
Falls outside the accepted range
Is a result of passion or prejudice
Shocks the judicial conscience
Professor Linke was reasonable in giving a range. His method would not undercompensate or overcompensate plaintiff.
The trier of fact enjoys a certain degree of leeway in awarding compensation for medical costs that are likely to arise in the future but are not specifically itemized in the testimony, but $1.5 million is a lot more. Professor Linke considered the GAO study presented but did not rely on it as plaintiff will require attendant care, not technological items. This should be reduced by $1 million.
The rest of Richardson's award was decided by the jury and should be honored as it is not the result of passion or prejudice and it does not "shock the conscious."
McGregor was not seriously injured. $100,000 for her pain and suffering is excessive. $50,000 would be more appropriate.
Richardson's damages were $1,000,000 excessive. McGregor's were $50,000 excessive.Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part.
Concurring & Dissenting Opinion:
McMarrow: The jury considered extensive evidence about six components of damages. Richardson suffered disabling injuries. Her treatment was very serious and extensive, and even now, she is in bad shape and requires much daily assistance.
When Linke calculated his estimates, he was more conservative than the General Accounting Office, which would have yielded $12 million for future medical care, not counting hospital admissions for complications, which Linke admits Richardson would need.
Nothing indicates the jury departed from its duty to weigh the evidence and assess damages to fairly compensate Richardson. They were $1.265 million under the higher testimonial estimate presented for that item of damages. If the damages could be exactly calculated, a jury would not have been needed.
McGregor's remittitur should also not be ordered. Her laceration took six months to heal, and she has recurrent nightmares of the car crash. There's no sound reason to nullify the function of the jury arbitrarily like this. The jury can go higher, and the judge cannot substitute his judgment for the jury's.