As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I was very interested to read a decision out of Connecticut that restored the full amount of a jury verdict that was reduced by the court. In Saleh v. Ribiero Trucking, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a Hartford-area trial court had abused its discretion when it ordered a remittitur that reduced a trucking victim’s award by more than $500,000. Ghassan Saleh sued Ribiero Trucking after its truck driver caused a chain-reaction crash that ended in a rear impact to Saleh’s sedan. In post-trial motions, the trial judge set aside most of the non-economic portion of the damages awarded to Saleh as excessive. The Connecticut appellate court reversed this, finding the decision was an abuse of discretion, and the state’s high court agreed.
At trial, a jury awarded Saleh $12,132 in economic damages and $687,838 in noneconomic damages, for a total of $700,000. Ribiero made post-trial motions to set aside the verdict, order a new trial and order a remittitur for the noneconomic damages. The trial court ordered a remittitur of $508,608 after a hearing, reasoning that the jury could reasonably have awarded $191,392 for economic damages, permanent injury and pain and suffering until Saleh’s injuries were rated for permanency. Saleh was given the choice of remitting the $508,608 or having a new trial ordered, and he declined to remit the money. Instead, he appealed to the Connecticut appeals court, which reversed. The appeals court found that the trial court improperly attempted to apply a formula to the award, and improperly ignored life expectancy and pain and suffering after the permanency rating. Ribiero appealed, arguing that the appeals court should have shown more deference to the trial court’s finding that these were exceptional circumstances.
The Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed, siding with Saleh. In its decision, it said the case balances two basic legal principles: the broad authority of the trial court and the right to trial by a jury. Under Connecticut caselaw, remittitur should be ordered only in exceptional circumstances, such as when the jury was prejudiced or corrupt, or ordered a result contrary to the facts, law or its own instructions. In fact, one case expressly says trial courts should not set aside judgments merely because they would have awarded less. The high court took the opportunity to rule expressly what it said was previously implicit: Trial courts ordering a remittitur should set forth “clear, definite and satisfactory reasons” for their decisions, in a memorandum of decision, to aid reviewing courts in their work. In this case’s memorandum, the court found the jury’s award so excessive as to shock the conscience. But when reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the existing verdict, the high court disagreed. The jury’s award did not fall outside the limits of reasonable given the evidence presented, it said. Thus, it upheld the appellate court.
This decision is interesting to me as a Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawyer because it’s very common for trucking accidents to create serious injuries. Commercial trucks are many times the size and weight of a Nissan Altima like Saleh’s, which means they can do substantial damage just by virtue of size, even in an indirect rear-end crash like this one. The opinion notes that Saleh’s car was badly deformed by the crash and that he continues to take pain medication throughout his day in order to function, yet cannot do many of the things he previously enjoyed. This kind of soft tissue pain is unfortunately common among people who have suffered serious rear-end accidents, but may not be appreciated because there’s no objective way to measure it like there is with a motion disability. That’s why, as a southern Illinois big rig accident attorney, I’m pleased the high court laid down clear standards for revoking jury decisions.
If your family has been affected by a serious tractor-trailer crash that was no fault of your own, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss how we can help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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