In the recent case of Adams v. Since adju Leamon, et al., No. E2012-01520-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App., September 16, 2013), the Court rejected the trial court’s remittitur reducing a jury verdict by over 70%. Having recently dealt with the question of whether to appeal a trial court’s additur, this case was of interest to me given the rather scant precedent in Tennessee quantifying an excessive adjustment of a jury award.
In Adams, the jury had awarded $317,000.00 following an auto accident which resulted in $14,731.00 of medical expenses. The total monetary award was reduced by 40% based on a reduction for comparative fault, resulting in a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $190,000.00. The trial court found that the jury award was excessive and reduced the total damages to $90,320.50, which ultimately resulted in a judgment in the amount of $54,192.10. In accordance with the normal procedure, the trial court gave plaintiff 30 days to either accept or reject the remittitur and if the remittitur was rejected, the defendant would be granted a new trial. The plaintiff accepted the remittitur under protest and filed an appeal.
The Court of Appeals emphasized the trial court’s right under T.C.A. § 20-10-102 to adjust the jury’s award when necessary to accomplish justice between the parties and to avoid the expense of a new trial. The Court of Appeals found that the reduction of the damages by the trial court was an indication that the lower court agreed with the jury’s verdict regarding liability and only disagreed with the amount of the jury’s compensatory damage award. The Court reiterated its “three step review” when evaluating a remittitur:
First, we examined the reasons for the trial court’s action since adjustments are proper only when the Court disagrees with the amount of the verdict. Second, we examined the amount of the suggested adjustments since adjustments that “totally destroy” the jury’s verdict are impermissible. Third, we reviewed the proof of damages to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s adjustment.
Id. citing Johnson v. Nunis, 383 S.W.3d 122, 134 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012). Evaluating the facts, the Court concluded that the evidence did not preponderate against the trial court’s determination that the verdict was excessive. However, the Court noted that an adjustment that totally destroys a jury’s verdict is impermissible and must be vacated or modified. In the case at bar, the Court found that the lower court’s reduction of approximately 71.5% is “so large as to destroy the jury’s verdict.” Having made this determination, the Court vacated the trial court’s remittitur and remanded the case solely to address the appropriate amount of damages.