In a newly issued opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals discussed the issue of jury awards in personal injury claims and under what circumstances they may be overturned or altered. In Nelson v. Erickson, the plaintiff brought a negligence claim against a driver who rear-ended him. The case was initially transferred to mandatory arbitration pursuant to Chapter 7.06 RCW. The arbitrator awarded the plaintiff medical damages, out-of-pocket expenses, general damages for pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees and costs. The defendant then requested a Mandatory Arbitration Rule trial de novo, and a jury trial was held.
Before the trial, the defendant admitted liability for the car accident, and the parties stipulated that the plaintiff incurred $9,361 in medical expenses. During the three-day trial, the plaintiff put forth evidence of the medical treatments and expenses he had incurred and would continue to require as a result of the chronic pain suffered from the accident. The jury returned a verdict awarding the stipulated medical expenses, past medical expenses, and past non-economic damages, as well as future medical expenses to treat his chronic pain, but it failed to award the plaintiff any future damages for pain and suffering.
The plaintiff moved for a new trial, contending that it was inconsistent for the jury to award future medical expenses without future non-economic damages. Under Washington law, when a party moves for a new trial, the trial court may reduce or increase the verdict in lieu of a new trial, with the consent of the adversely affected party. A judge may grant additur if the jury’s verdict on its face is so inadequate it must have resulted from passion or prejudice. In Nelson, the judge agreed with the plaintiff, finding that a jury award that provides damages for future medical treatment of pain, while failing to acknowledge that pain, is inconsistent. The judge thus granted an award of additur in the amount of $3,000 to the plaintiff.
On appeal, the court stated that, while there is no statute that requires general damages to be awarded to a plaintiff who sustains an injury, case law provides that a plaintiff who substantiates his pain and suffering with evidence is entitled to general damages for it. If the record shows an award for special damages, such as medical expenses, but not for proved general damages, such as pain and suffering, additur and a new trial may be appropriate.
In Nelson, the plaintiff presented uncontested evidence that he continued to suffer chronic pain in the three years following the accident, including the testimony of doctors as to the required medical procedures and therapy needed to treat his pain. The Court of Appeals thus held that that the jury’s verdict went directly against that evidence, for its award of future medical treatment expenses to treat the plaintiff’s ongoing, chronic pain necessarily established the plaintiff’s damages for future pain and suffering as well. As a result, the court concluded that the jury’s verdict omitting future general pain and suffering contradicted the evidence, and it affirmed the trial judge’s grant of additur.
If you have been injured in a automobile or other accident, you may be able to pursue compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages caused by a negligent party. The personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC offer experienced, skilled legal representation to accident victims in Washington, and we handle criminal and family law matters as well. To discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or through our website.
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