A $2 million car accident verdict in favor of an injured plaintiff was overturned by an appeals court in New Jersey recently, after the judge agreed with defendant’s assertion that the amount of compensatory damages was “shockingly excessive.”
Beyond that, the court ruled the trial judge had made numerous errors during the proceedings, including refusing to delay the trial when defendant was hospitalized for a medical emergency two days before the proceedings and allowing plaintiffs to make certain factual assertions to the jury absent the backing of an expert witness.
In Berkowitz v. Soper, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, the judge ordered a new trial was necessary as there had been a “clear miscarriage of justice.”
Our Winston-Salem accident lawyers know that despite what tort reform lobbyists would have you think, cases like this aren’t the norm. Those injured in car accidents tend to face an uphill battle in obtaining full compensation for their losses. As this case shows, there are checks and balances that ensure a fair process. Because the trial court is not always the last stop, injured persons need to make sure they have a competent lawyer who will properly preserve issues for appeal if that becomes necessary and to give the defense as little room as possible to attack the credibility of the verdict.
According to court records in this case, plaintiff was rear-ended by defendant in 2009 in a collision plaintiff described as a “tremendous hit from behind.” It was the third accident he’d endured in nine years that had caused him injury to his back. In a lawsuit filed days before the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations, he alleged this crash exacerbated the injuries he’d suffered in the first two.
Diagnostic tests showed he suffered disc compression and bulges in his lower spine. He testified that he was able to complete most daily activities, but often does so in pain and sometimes needs help from his wife. He was treated with steroid injections, physical therapy and prescription pain medication.
The case first went to a mandatory, non-binding arbitrator, who deemed defendant 100 percent liable and awarded plaintiff $40,000 in compensatory damages. No economic damages were awarded because plaintiff was still able to do his job as a salesperson.
A review by a trial court was requested and the case was slated for trial in July 2013. The case was delayed five times before being set in May 2014. Two days before that trial date, defendant suffered a medical emergency and asked for another delay. Judge did not grant it and so defendant was not able to appear at trial.
All factual testimony presented came from plaintiff, his wife and his friend. None of the physicians who treated plaintiff had agreed to testify. However, plaintiff’s attorney made reference before the jury to plaintiff’s need for surgery and plaintiff’s severe pain that led him to suicidal ideations.
Judge granted plaintiff’s motion for directed verdict on the issue of liability. Defendant called a single witness, a doctor who testified before the jury in a pre-taped interview.
Jurors spent less than two hours deliberating before awarding plaintiff $2 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. The court also granted plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs, based on defendant’s refusal to accept a $30,000 settlement offer from plaintiff a year earlier.
Defendant appealed, arguing the trial court made a series of errors that unfairly prejudiced her by inflaming jurors’ passion.
The appeals court agreed and concluded a new trial on both the issues of liability and damages was the only way to correct the error.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Berkowitz v. Soper, Jan. 20, 2016,Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
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Ketler v. PFPA – Fitness Equipment Injury Liability, Jan. 11, 2016, Winston-Salem Injury Lawyer Blog