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$1 Million Jury Award for Leg Injury not Excessive Under New Jersey Law

March 2, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/attorneys/assets/opinions/appellate/unpublished/a2060-16.pdf">Newton v. Sam’s Club</a>,</em> the New Jersey Appellate Division applied the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recently revised remittitur standard to determine whether a $1,000,000 verdict for plaintiff’s damages shocked the “judicial conscience.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Generally, remittitur is a court decision that reduces the amount of damages granted by a jury in a civil case. In <em>Cuevas v. Wentworth Group,</em> the New Jersey Supreme Court held that remittitur includes an analysis of the case itself; witness testimony; the nature, extent, and duration of plaintiff’s injuries; and the impact of those injuries on the plaintiff’s life. The standard to determine whether remittitur is appropriate is not whether a damages award shocks the judge’s personal conscience, but whether it shocks the judicial conscience.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In Newton, plaintiff sustained severe lacerations to her left leg, leaving her wound visible but not severed. As a result of the injury, plaintiff walked with a limp and experienced constant pain in her leg. As she continued to experience pain, she stopped going to the gym and her physical activities were severely limited. In addition, plaintiff’s injuries impaired her ability to assist her already immobile husband. Prior to the accident, plaintiff was responsible for the day-to-day activities of her husband such as bathing him and driving.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Defendant argued on appeal that a new trial should be granted because the $1,000,000 verdict shocks the judicial conscience, was against the weight of the evidence, and was a product of sympathy, prejudice, and partiality. Defendant further argued that the trial court erred in denying a remittitur. In support of its arguments, defendant pointed out that the trial judge was inexperienced in personal injury litigation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division was not persuaded by defendant’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’s denial of a new trial and remittitur. The Appellate Division reasoned that plaintiff sustained disfiguring scarring, numbness, constant pain, and impairment of the use of her leg. Taking into consideration plaintiff’s life expectancy and lifestyle, the court did not find the awarded damages were “so grossly disproportionate to the injuries suffered that it shocks the judicial conscience.” Although the Appellate Division acknowledged that the $1,000,000 verdict was high on the spectrum of damages, this does not mean it was excessive.</p>
Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmalw.com">Mike Bono</a> with any questions.

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