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Additur: Lowest Possible Verdict Standard Applies (NJ)

July 26, 2017

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Additur is a legal mechanism, seldom seen in some jurisdictions, wherein a court may correct a damages verdict, if the court feels 1) the verdict rendered constitutes a manifest injustice, 2) the verdict can be corrected without disturbing the liability verdict. Appellate-plaintiff attempted to use this mechanism in the <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Orientale-v.-Jennings.pdf">Orientale v. Jennings</a></em> case, wherein a jury trial resulted in a $200 award for pain and suffering on behalf of the plaintiff.
Following a motor vehicle accident, plaintiff settled with the negligent driver for $100,000 and subsequently filed suit against her own insurer, defendant Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company, under the UIM provision of her policy.  A damages trial was conducted to determine the extent of plaintiff’s injuries. The jury awarded no money on the loss of consortium claim. Although the jury found that plaintiff had suffered permanent injury, they awarded $200 in damages.
Plaintiffs sought a new trial and filed a motion for an additur. The trial judge determined that the $200 award constituted a miscarriage of justice and that additur was appropriate. The judge determined that the lowest verdict that a reasonable jury could have reached based on the proofs of the case was $47,500. Apparently, this increased award was not enough for the plaintiff, who then filed an appeal arguing that the trial court applied the wrong standard for additur. Plaintiffs argued that the trial court should not have made the award calculations based on the <em>lowest</em> value that a reasonable jury could find, but rather that it should have issued an award based on what a <em>reasonable</em> jury would find.
The appellate court determined that the principles that applied to additur included a presumption that the jury verdict was correct and deference should be given to the award. The trial record underlying an additur motion must be viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant and the judge should not sit as a decisive juror and should not overturn a damages award falling within a wide acceptable range. The court’s role in assessing a jury verdict is to assure that compensatory damages awarded to a plaintiff encompasses no more than the amount that will make the plaintiff whole. The appellate court thereby determined that the trial court properly applied the standard of “the lowest verdict that a reasonable jury could have reached based on the proof[s].” The appellate court affirmed the trial court decision.  Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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