This is not my case. A car accident victim and his spouse sued his uninsured motorist insurer, Security National Insurance Company.
The trial court reduced the jury awards for jury awards for past and future pain and suffering against Security National Insurance Company (“Security”) by a total of $996,000.
The appeals court ruled that the trial court should not have reduced the award because the trial court failed to identify or explain what establishes the need and appropriate amount for the reduction.
Facts of the case
Arnold sued Security, his uninsured motorist carrier, after being injured in a car accident. His coverage was limited to $100,000.
Arnold alleged that he suffered physically, emotionally, and financially as a result of the uninsured driver’s negligence.
At trial, Arnold produced expert testimony to support his claims for past and future medical expenses related to a herniated disc caused by the accident. (Security’s defense was that Arnold’s physical condition was caused by previous injuries or normal degenerative processes.)
He also produced evidence in support of his claims for past and future pain and suffering. Most of the arguments on appeal revolve around whether, in the future, Arnold will either have to:
(1) undergo a disc fusion surgery or
(2) endure a life of pain, if the microdiscectomy surgery that was scheduled to occur shortly after trial was not substantially successful.
Arnold’s expert testified about future surgery
Regarding the need for future medical treatment, Arnold’s expert said that Arnold needed the microdiscectomy surgery.
The expert said that “the majority of patients after the microdiscectomy surgery have most resolution of their symptoms, but a substantial number may go on to have either persistent pain or recurrent pain at that level or even a recurrent herniation, and that will require future surgical treatment.”
The expert also testified that the future surgical treatment needed to address a recurrent herniation would be a disc fusion surgery. However, the expert admitted:
“Q. We don’t know what is going to happen to Mr. Arnold?
A. No, we don’t.
Q. You don’t know if he’s going to need an additional surgery at all, do you?
A. That’s correct.”
An Indian River County, Florida jury returned a verdict of:
Past Medical Damages $ 26,413
Future Medical Damages $126,000
Past Lost Earnings $ 35,000
Past Pain and Suffering $500,000
Future Pain and Suffering $800,000
This amounted to a total award of $1,487,413. Security then requested a new trial and asked the court to reduce the jury verdict.
Security’s reasons for requesting to lower the verdict
Security based its requests on the claim that the award of future medical expenses for a disc fusion surgery was based on speculative evidence.
Security argued, after trial, that Arnold’s expert testimony supported an award of only $30,000 for future medical expenses, representing the cost of a microdiscectomy surgery and not the cost of a disc fusion surgery.
The trial court denied the request for new trial, but reduced the verdict, stating:
“Arnold’s treating physician testified that the discectomy being planned at a cost of approximately $30,000 was to resolve his symptoms. Evidence of his pain and suffering over the last three years was limited and he was able to work full-time and resume his normal activities.
Any surgeries after the discectomy and expenses related thereto were merely speculative. The jury speculated on the future optional surgery and as a result, the future medical expenses are excessive. Thus, the trial court said that the future medical expenses award should be lowered to $30,000 (not $126,000).
The trial court said that the verdict was excessive.
Trial court reduced the verdict by $996,000
In total, the trial court reduced the verdict in the amount of $996,000 as follows:
Category Jury Award Amount After Reduction
Future Medical $126,000 $30,000
Past Pain & Suffering $500,000 $200,000
Future Pain & Suffering $800,000 $200,000
The trial court reduced the final judgment to $491,413. The case was appealed.
Arnold did not argue on appeal that the trial court erred in lowering the jury award for future medical expenses down to $30,000.
Instead, Arnold claimed that the trial court erred in reducing the jury awards for past and future pain and suffering.
As to the reduction for past pain and suffering, Arnold argues the record does not support the trial court’s finding that:
(1) there was only limited evidence of Arnold’s pain and suffering during the three years before trial, and
(2) Arnold was able to work full-time and resume his normal activities.
As to the reduction for future pain and suffering, Arnold argues the record does not support the trial court’s implied finding that his future microdiscectomy surgery would resolve all of his future pain.
Security argues trial court’s reduction should stand
Security argues that the appeals court should agree with the trial court’s reduction. More specifically, Security argues that an award of $1,300,000 for pain and suffering shocks the conscience and has no rational relationship to the amount of damages proved and the injury suffered.
Security also argues that the combination of evidence that the microdiscectomy surgery would relieve Arnold’s pain and the need for a fusion surgery was highly speculative, coupled with a one hour of jury deliberation resulting in a verdict that mirrors the damages sought by Arnold’s closing argument shows that the jury verdict was improper.
Security says other jury verdicts show reduction is reasonable
Security claims that the comparison of the total pain and suffering jury award in this case with the pain and suffering awards in three other Florida cases and four out-of-state cases establishes the reasonableness of the trial court’s decision on reducing the verdict.
Trial court fails to explain why pain and suffering awards should be reduced
The appeals court said that because the trial court in this case failed to explain what demonstrates the need for reduction the awards for pain and suffering, and the reason for the amount chosen, it is unable to determine if the trial court’s reduction is in agreement with the law.
Appeals Court rejects security’s claim that comparison of pain and suffering in other cases
For two reasons, the appeals rejected Security’s argument that the comparison of pain and suffering awards in other cases shows a basis to agree with the trial court’s reduction.
Old jury verdicts may be stale and useless
First, all but one of the comparison cases cited by Security were decided between 1997 and 2003; the 2010 comparison case awarded a much higher amount.
The comparison data may be stale or not representative.
Security says other jury verdicts show average verdict of $375,000
Second, Security argued to the trial court that the comparison cases showed an average award of $375,000. The transcript of the hearing shows the trial court may have been considering a higher amount than the comparison cases suggested, but the trial court gave no insight as to what factors affected the court’s decision to arrive at a total of $400,000.
There is nothing in the record or written order that makes it apparent why $200,000 is the appropriate amount, separately, for both past and future pain and suffering.
Given the number of years between the accident and trial (three years), as compared to Arnold’s life expectancy post-trial (Arnold was 38 years old at the time of trial), it seems unusual that one would conclude the amount awarded for pain and suffering for both periods would be equal.
Appeals court didn’t have enough info to agree with trial court without asking for reason for pain and suffering reduction
The appeals court said that the trial record in this case did not let them avoid having to ask the trial court to explain its reasoning for the reduction in pain and suffering amounts.
The appeals court ordered the trial court to prepare an order which contains the necessary findings and conclusions to support the reduction of the jury’s award for pain and suffering in this case.
I will update this article if, and when, I hear that the trial court gives a reason for its reduction in pain and suffering amounts. If that order is appealed, I will comment on the outcome of that appeal as well.
The appeals case is Arnold v. Security National Insurance Company, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2015. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued a ruling on September 16, 2015.
The Indian River County trial court case number is 312010 CA 073563.
Florida’s 4th DCA handles appeals from Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties. The 4th DCA is located in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Side Note: Security National Insurance Company is part of Bristol West and Foremost Insurance Group, which is part of Farmers Insurance Company. Farmers is part of Zurich Insurance Company.
West Palm Beach lawyers and a Vero Beach, Florida attorney represented the injured man. Attorney Rosemary B. Wilder of Marlow, Adler, Abrams, Newman & Lewis, in Coral Gables, Florida was hired by Security National Insurance Company to defend the careless driver.
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