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Florida Fifth DCA reverses trial court denial of motion for additur or new trial as to non-economic damages after jury returned inadequate award in motor vehicle negligence case

On January 5, 2018, in Gustavsson v. Holder, No. 5D16-1442, the Florida Fifth DCA ruled that a trial court had abused its discretion by declining to grant a motion for additur or new trial on the issue of past non-economic damages incurred by the plaintiff in a motor vehicle negligence case. The jury had returned a verdict for $507,667 in medical damages, but found the plaintiff 99% at fault for the accident. The jury initially awarded no non-economic damages even though there was a directed verdict on the issue of permanency. The parties agreed that the verdict was inconsistent and the court sent the jury back for further deliberations. Eleven minutes later, they returned a verdict adding $1,000 for past non-economic damages and $1,000 for future non-economic damages. After trial, the plaintiff moved for additur, or in the alternative, for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court. On appeal, the Fifth DCA considered the factors set forth in Section 768.043, Florida Statutes, regarding whether an award is clearly excessive or inadequate in light of the facts and circumstances presented to the trier of fact and in determining the amount, if any, that such award exceeds a reasonable range of damages or is inadequate. The Fifth DCA concluded that the past non-economic damages award was clearly inadequate given that (1) all of the physicians involved agreed that the plaintiff suffered a serious and painful injury requiring months of hospitalization, (2) the jury was instructed that the plaintiff had sustained a permanent injury as a matter of law, and (3) the jury awarded over half a million in medical damages.