legal scale

Most of the time, personal injury litigation flies under the radar. On occasion, however, this kind of civil litigation does get lots of attention when a jury awards millions of dollars to a plaintiff. The publicity dies out fairly quickly even with the largest awards, and what happens afterwards usually doesn't get any press at all. What doesn't get any attention is the subsequent overturning of the award. The rejection of the award happens because attorneys ask for too much in personal injury damage awards. 

Juries can and do reach very large numbers in punishing a defendant or awarding a plaintiff with damages. Many times these massive awards are accepted by judges, and then later overturned for being excessive.

Punitive damages are, by definition, intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages grant plaintiffs more than what is needed to make them whole again. The jury can get carried away, however, and there is a constitutional limit on damage awards. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that there must be a reasonable relationship between the actual damages and the award of punitive damages. In practice, the multiplier ceiling has typically been 10. If punitive damage awards are more than 10 times greater than the compensatory damages, they may be found as excessive and perhaps struck down.

In addition to the multiplier of 10 ceiling, individual states have damage caps. In an attempt to curb excessive damage awards, many states have passed damage caps that prevent damages in certain categories from exceeding specific dollar amounts. Caps can quickly cut into difficult-to-measure damages, like pain and suffering.

Awards can be appealed by any defendants that believe that an award against them is excessive. In the case of an appeal, the appellate court will decide whether the trial court abused its discretion in allowing a jury verdict to stand or in issuing its own verdict. Unless the verdict conflicts with statute or case law, the appellate court review will likely be deferential to jury awards. Personal injury awards that violate these damage cap laws will likely be struck down as excessive.

Do you have questions about personal injury litigation? Contact us and ask for one of our civil litigation attorneys.

- The Civil Litigation Team
   Rogers Sheffield & Campbell, LLP

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