Recently, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal addressed a damages award in a personal injury lawsuit following a fight outside a restaurant. The plaintiff, who underwent surgery following the incident, argued that the jury did not award him enough damages for his medical costs and lost wages from work. On appeal, the court noted that the jury had to assess whether a preexisting condition contributed to the plaintiff’s need for surgery, and whether the jury’s award was clearly wrong.
Benjamin Baw, a Monroe, Louisiana Police Officer, and Norman Paulson began to fight in the parking lot of Trio’s Restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana. Mr. Baw was dating Mr. Paulson’s ex-girlfriend, and Mr. Paulson had called her a name and then hit her and knocked her into a vehicle in the parking lot. As Mr. Baw attempted to restrain Mr. Paulson, he was punched in the right eye. The Trio’s bartender broke up the fight, and Mr. Baw was treated for injuries sustained during the fight. Mr. Baw underwent surgery for his lumbar disc. Mr. Baw then brought a personal injury lawsuit against Mr. Paulson.
During a four-day trial, the jury heard medical testimony regarding Mr. Baw’s previous back injuries. They eventually returned a verdict assigning 90% comparative fault to Mr. Paulson for the injuries Mr. Baw suffered during the altercation. Mr. Baw was awarded $2,500.00 in past lost wages, $25,000.00 in general damages, and $7,500.00 in medical expenses. Mr. Baw was awarded a judgment of 90% of $35,000.00, which is $31,400.00. Mr. Baw moved for JNOV or a new trial on damages. After the trial court denied Mr. Baw’s motion and request for a new trial, he appealed.
On appeal, Mr. Baw argued that the jury’s award of damages was low, and significantly more damages were proved. The appellate court stated the standard of review is that of manifest error. To apply this two-step process, there cannot be a factual basis for the trial court’s conclusion, and the finding must be clearly wrong.
Regarding general damages, Mr. Baw contended that an award of only $25,000.00 was a clear abuse of the jury’s discretion. He asserted that $125,000.00 was the minimal amount the jury could have reasonably awarded.
The appellate court stated that when assessing general damages, the trial judge or jury has much discretion. General damages include those that involve physical pain or suffering, inconvenience, loss of intellectual gratification, or loss of physical enjoyment. The court also stated that as an appellate court, they rarely disturb an award of general damages. If the trier of fact abused their discretion, the appellate court can turn to prior awards and determine the highest or lowest point within that discretion.
In this case, the jury was asked to determine the extent of Mr. Baw’s injuries and whether Mr. Paulson caused Mr. Baw to require surgery, or whether he only aggravated a preexisting condition. The jury concluded that Mr. Paulson was 90% at fault for the altercation. The appellate court stated the issue was whether the jury came to an unreasonable decision regarding Mr. Baw’s need for surgery, which then influenced the award of damages.
The appellate court reviewed the medical testimony and stated that as a whole, the evidence showed Mr. Baw had a degenerative condition that would have progressed over time without the intervention of a traumatic event. Here, the court stated that the jury was not unreasonable in their conclusion. General damages include those that cannot be fixed, and here, the award of $25,000.00 reflected the jury’s findings that the altercation with Mr. Paulson only partially caused Mr. Baw’s need for surgery.
In this case, the appeals court stated that the jury was in the best position to evaluate the medical professional witnesses. The jury found Mr. Paulson 90% at fault for the altercation in their comparative fault analysis, and they awarded Mr. Baw damages for his injuries and inconvenience. Since the record did not show a clear abuse of discretion, the appellate court held they would not disturb the amount of general damages awarded.
Concerning the award of special damages, Mr. Baw argued he proved more than $2,500.00 in past lost wages. The court stated the rule that special damages are those that can be determined with a degree of certainty, and they include past and future medical costs. The court rejected Mr. Baw’s contention that the jury abused its discretion in awarding past lost wages because the jury was in the best position to determine if Mr. Baw actually lost wages. They also stated that Mr. Baw failed to prove the value of his loss clearly. Finally, regarding the award of medical bills for $7,500.00, the court stated that it was reasonable for the jury to find that the fight with Mr. Paulson contributed only in part to Mr. Baw’s need for surgery.
In conclusion, the appellate court upheld the jury’s award for special damages in past lost wages and medical expenses. They also found the general damages award to be reasonable.
At Lavis Law, our skilled personal injury attorneys provide guidance and representation to injured Louisiana residents seeking compensation. Our office provides a free, confidential consultation and can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.
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