Thursday, August 30, 2012

Win some, lose some in FELA damages appeal

Here's an interesting Federal Employers' Liability Act case that shows that the trial judge has authority to order a new trial if the jury does not award the injured plaintiff enough money.

The case is Anderson v. Metro-North, a summary order decided on July 16. While working for the railroad, Anderson suffered an electric shock after coming into contact with a live power line. As Metro-North conceded liability, the case went to trial on damages. The jury awarded Anderson over $2 million in lost wages and pain and suffering. Judge Robinson ordered a new trial on damages for past and future pain and suffering because the jury only awarded $87,500 for past pain and suffering and $100,000 for future pain and suffering over ten years. The next jury gave Anderson $200,000 for past pain and suffering and $925,000 for future pain and suffering over 32 years.

Judge Robinson granted the new trial because thought the award for past and future pain and suffering was "so inadequate as to shock the judicial conscience and constitute a denial of justice." The trial court acted within his discretion in concluding that the approximately $187,000 in damages was simply not enough. You don't see this very often, but sometimes a low damages award entitles the plaintiff to a new trial. Anderson gets to keep the second jury award on past and future pain and suffering.

The district court also granted a new trial on future wage and fringe benefits. The first jury gave Anderson about $425,000 in damages for 10 years of lost wages and benefits. The trial court thought this was too low because "no evidence had been produced that Anderson was presently disabled but would eventually recover his health sufficient to allow him to resume his duties as an employee of Metro-North."  The second jury gave Anderson a lot more money for these damages.

But the Court of Appeals (Leval, Pooler and Livingston) says the first jury award was legitimate because the jury could have relied on evidence to the effect that Anderson could, in fact, recover in time to resume working for Metro-North; his injuries were not permanent. The damages award for future lost wages and benefits has support in the record, particularly since the railroad's expert witness testified that plaintiff was not currently disabled at all. Since Judge Robinson should not have vacated this particular jury award, the second trial on these damages should not have happened. What this means for Anderson is that the second damages verdict for future wage loss and benefits in the amount of approximately $1.4 million is vacated.

1 comment:

Josh said...

So there is no such thing as upward remittitur, your only option is a new trial?