Trial Judge Allowed to Modify Jury Verdict in Favor of Plaintiff When Jury’s Verdict “Shockingly” Low

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of South Carolina heard an interesting case dealing with the trial judge’s ability to modify a jury’s verdict if he or she does not agree with the amount of compensation after liability has been established. In the case, Riley v. Ford Motor Company, the plaintiff was the wife of a man who was killed as a result of a negligently designed door latch on a Ford vehicle.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff’s husband died when he was driving his Ford truck and swerved to avoid an accident with a high school student who had pulled out in front of him. As the man swerved to avoid the collision, he eventually ended up colliding with a tree and was ejected from the vehicle through the door, which allegedly opened due to the negligently designed door latch.

The woman filed suit against the teenage driver as well as against Ford Motor Company. Prior to trial, the woman settled with the driver, and the case proceeded to trial against Ford only. After hearing the case, the jury determined that Ford was liable to the plaintiff for $300,000.

The plaintiff filed a motion for nisi additur, or adjustment of the final verdict, since the amount of compensation that the jury determined was appropriate was insufficient. The plaintiff noted that the economic damages alone were roughly $228,000, and there were non-economic damages that were proven as well. The judge agreed and modified the judgment to $900,000. Ford appealed.

On Appeal

On appeal to the intermediate court, Ford argued that the trial judge invaded the province of the jury by essentially overriding their finding. The court of appeals agreed with Ford and reversed the $900,000 award to the plaintiff and reinserted the $300,000 award. The plaintiff then appealed to the highest state court.

The Final Appeal

In front of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, the plaintiff argued that there is no way that the jury’s award amount was proper, given that she proved economic damages in the amount of $228,000. In addition to the economic damages, the plaintiff also submitted proof of non-economic damages from the loss of her loved one. Theses damages, she argued, were more than the remaining $72,000. The court agreed, explaining that when a jury’s verdict is shocking, whether low or high, the trial judge is in a position to correct that erroneous verdict through an additur (increasing the damages) or remittitur (decreasing the damages).

Have You Been Involved in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of serious Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for all that you have been put through. As you can see from the above discussion, the legal issues that can arise during or after a trial are numerous, and they can be very complicated with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. Make sure you take every precaution with your case, and discuss it with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Reverses Plaintiff’s Award for Punitive Damages, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published October 7, 2015.

Driver Arrested and Charged with DUI Homicide After Fatal Southern Maryland Accident, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published September 23, 2015.

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