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PERSONAL INJURY LAW: $50,000 For Noneconomic Damages Did Not Shock Sense of Justice

PERSONAL INJURY LAW: $50,000 For Noneconomic Damages Did Not Shock Sense Of Justice

CASE:  Johnson v. Pike

COURT:  Connecticut Appellate Court

DOC. NO.:  AC 32695; COURT OPINION BY:  DiPentima, CJ.

DATE:  June 12, 2012

It is not the size of the verdict that matters but, rather, whether it falls within the uncertain limits of just damages or shocks the sense of justice so as to lead to the conclusion that the jury was improperly influenced by partiality, prejudice, mistake or corruption.

David Johnson brought this action seeking damages for injuries he suffered in an automobile accident involving a vehicle owned by Daniel Pike and driven by Andrew Pike.  The defendants admitted liability. Following a trial on damages, the jury awarded $34,222 in lost wages, $1762 in medical bills, no future medical expenses and $50,000 in noneconomic damages.  The verdict totaled $85,984.

The defendants’ post verdict motions including for a remittitur and to set aside the verdict were denied.  The defendants appealed claiming that the court improperly denied their motions because the award of $50,000 in noneconomic damages was excessive.  The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant argued that by comparing the award of medical bills to the evidence “is a reasonable interpretation of the verdict form that the jury did not think [the] plaintiff injured his right shoulder in the accident since [it] did not award any treatment after… the date [the] plaintiff stopped treating for his right wrist.”  The defendant claimed that $50,000 in noneconomic damages for a right wrist sprain was excessive and outside the limits of fair and reasonable compensation.

The Appellate Court found that given the lack of jury interrogatories, no support was provided for the contention that the verdict form clearly established that the jury rejected the shoulder injury claim.  Assuming, arguendo, that the jury rejected the claimed shoulder injury, the award of $50,000 in noneconomic damages did not shock the sense of justice.  There was evidence of the pain suffered by the plaintiff at the time of the accident, his difficulty sleeping and loss of the ability to engage in a recreational activity, golf.  The plaintiff’s stipulated life expectancy was 18 years.  He stated that although his wrist had improved, it remained an “issue” for him. Given the uncertain nature of compensation for noneconomic damages and the fact that a generous award is permissible, so long as it does not shock the sense of justice, the trial court properly denied the defendants’ motions.