State Supreme Court Permits Trial Judge Ability to Adjust Verdict When Jury’s Damages Award “Shockingly” Low

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of South Carolina decided a case in favor of a plaintiff who lost her husband in a tragic equipment-related accident. In the case, Riley v. Ford Motor Company, the court determined that the trial judge properly adjusted the damages award in favor of the plaintiff after the jury returned a shockingly inadequate amount.

car-door-handle-1309254.jpgAccording to the court’s written opinion, the fatal accident occurred when the plaintiff’s husband was driving on the highway in a Ford truck. As the man was driving on the highway, a student on his way to school pulled out in front of the truck. In an attempt to avoid a collision with the young man’s car, the driver of the Ford truck swerved. However, as he did so he lost control of the vehicle, and it ended up colliding with the teen’s car nonetheless.

The impact from the collision sent the man’s truck off the side of the road, where it struck a tree. Upon the impact with the tree, the truck’s door latch released, allowing the door to open and sending the driver out of the vehicle with significant force. The man was killed in the accident, and the man’s wife then filed suit against the teen driver as well as against the Ford Motor Company. The plaintiff settled with the teenage driver prior to trial, and the case against Ford proceeded to trial, where Ford was ultimately found liable.

Despite the plaintiff submitting evidence of economic damages in the amount of $228,000, as well as substantial non-economic damages, the jury returned a verdict of just $300,000. The plaintiff asked the court for a new trial as to damages only, arguing that the jury-determined award was greatly insufficient given the evidence presented. The judge agreed and added $600,000 in damages to the award.

Ford appealed to the intermediate appellate court, which reversed the trial court’s decision and voided the increase in damages. The court explained that it was not the judge’s job to invade the duty of the jury and decide what amount of damages was appropriate. Then, the plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court.

On Final Appeal
In front of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, the plaintiff made essentially the same arguments as below and convinced the court that the trial judge was proper in increasing the amount of the damages award. The court explained that, while it is not always appropriate for a judge to override the jury, in instances where the damages award is shockingly low or high, the trial judge is in a position to adjust the total award amount.

Have You Been Involved in a New Mexico Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a New Mexico car accident of any kind, you may be entitled to monetary damages based on the defendant’s negligence. Having a dedicated and experienced attorney by your side can help you obtain the fairest and fullest award, and can hopefully avoid a lengthy appeals process, as the plaintiff above was forced to endure. Call the Fine Law Firm at 505-889-FINE to set up a free consultation with a dedicated New Mexico personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Court of Texas Remands Case After Finding that Spectating a Sporting Event is Not Considered “Recreation” Under Relevant Statute, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 7, 2015.

Construction Site Accident in Rio Rancho Kills One and Injures Several Others, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 8, 2015.