A basic principle of law grants a jury wide leeway in determining damages, as the following personal injury case illustrates.
Woman Injured by Delivery Man's Hand Truck
In Myagi v Dean Transportation, 2019 Il. App (1st) 172933, Plaintiff, a woman in her 40s, was struck in the leg by a 2 wheel hand truck pushed by a Deans delivery man in a Walgreen’s store. The hand truck had been loaded high with milk cartons, blocking the delivery man’s view. Plaintiff did not seek medical attention until that evening, when she went to an ER and was diagnosed with a contusion (bruise). Several weeks later the pain in her leg spread to her right foot. Physical therapy was prescribed, but proved unhelpful. The woman then sought treatment with a pain management doctor, who prescribed nerve blocks and radiofrequency ablations (burning of the nerve). These offered only temporary relief of the injury.
Plaintiff was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a condition marked by severe, unrelenting pain. Ultimately treatment consisted of strong, addicting pain medication such as morphine, and insertion of a spinal cord stimulator. Plaintiff also sought the treatment of a psychiatrist to help her cope with depression and life changes (drastically reduced workload and activities, and social isolation).
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
At trial, plaintiff’s doctors testified that the CRPS was a permanent condition, that she would require medical treatment for the rest of her life, that her life expectancy (based upon her family history) was 50 years, and that her condition would gradually grow worse as she aged. The Defendant admitted negligence, but denied plaintiff was injured to the extent claimed.
Trial occurred on the sole issue of damages.
The jury returned a verdict of $10 million, itemized as follows:
- Loss of a normal life (past): $ 200,000
- Loss of a normal life (future): $1,000,000
- Pain and suffering (past): $200,000
- Pain and suffering (future): $1,000,000
- Medical treatment (past): $300,000
- Medical treatment (future): $7,300,000
Past means from the date of injury to the time of trial. Future means from the time of trial for a period of 50 years, IF the jury accepted that the plaintiff would actually live another 50 years. Jury’s are instructed that they can use their ordinary experiences in life in helping them decide issues. Thus, even though the plaintiff’s doctors testified that she would live well into her 90’s, the jury did not have to accept this.
Court Asked to Reduce Jury Damage Award
In a post-trial motion, the Defendant asked the Court to reduce the award for future medical treatment to $5,703.39, arguing that Plaintiff failed to prove the actual costs of her future medical bills. Proof of damages have to meet a reasonable certainty standard. Mere speculation, conjecture or guess about future costs is not allowed. The trial court reduced the future medical award in half, finding the jury verdict to be excessive (for reasons beyond the scope of this article), but still awarded plaintiff $3.65 million for future treatment, for a total verdict of over $6 million.
What is particularly noteworthy about this award for future medical treatment is that while plaintiff’s doctors testified she would need treatment for the rest of her life, there was no evidence produced as to the costs of any of the future treatment. As the Court said, “Here the entire trial consisted of testimony regarding expected future medical costs for which no specific estimates were provided.” The defendant appealed, again claiming that the plaintiff’s future medical costs were unproven.
Evidence of Future Medical Costs
The Appellate Court stated that direct evidence of future medical costs was unnecessary under the facts of the case. The jury had heard ample testimony during trial about plaintiff’s past medical care, care that would continue throughout her life consisting of a spinal cord stimulator which would have to have its battery replaced every 8 years in a minor surgical procedure, as well as medication, therapy and psychiatric care. The Court noted that it is impossible to establish a precise formula for reducing damages, and a jury ‘s decision will not be overturned unless unreasonable, unfair or the result of passion or prejudice.
Appellate Court Affirms $3.7 Million Future Medical Treatment Damages Award
Appellate courts cannot substitute their judgment for that of the jury. Given the medical testimony, the Appellate Court concluded “it is reasonable to infer that (plaintiff) will likely need additional medical treatment as her condition progresses and worsens”, and affirmed the trial Court’s $3.7 million future medical treatment award.
Does this verdict pass the reasonable certainty test? It is debatable. The fact that the plaintiff would require medical treatment for the rest of her life is not the same as proving the cost of such treatment. On what basis did the jury come to their figure? Couldn’t the cost of medication be determined at least based on today’s costs? Same with psychiatric care. Same with physical therapy. Same with the cost of replacing the spinal cord stimulator battery.
Courts Take Jury Damages Award Seriously
The personal injury case illustrates how seriously Courts take a jury’s role in reaching a verdict. It is the jury, not the Court that must decide the facts and apply the law to the facts. While the jury is supposed to be objective in reaching its verdict, not allowing sympathy or emotion to dictate, the fact is that juries are composed of people, and all people have emotions and feelings. The jury must really have felt for the plaintiff, must really have believed that she had intractable pain, really have believed she would live into her 90’s, to have awarded her $7.3 million. Yet no costs were described, and the jury was free to do what it wanted. One never knows before trial how a jury will receive evidence and determine a plaintiff’s fate. In Myagi, the jury was decidedly pro-plaintiff. In another case, who knows?
Reference: 2019 Appellate Court Opinions (PDF document)