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Florida Fourth DCA reverses trial court order which had granted defamation defendant’s remittitur motion and reduced plaintiff’s judgment from $550,000 to $100,000

On March 10, 2021, in Fernalld v. ABB, Inc. et al, No. 4D19-3511, the Florida Fourth DCA reversed a trial court’s ruling that had granted a defendant’s motion for remittitur of the amount of the judgment against him in a defamation case. The jury had awarded the plaintiff $550,000, but the trial court reduced the judgment to $100,000, premising the reduction in part on the fact that the plaintiff had never seen any professionals for mental health problems from the defamation and concluding that the trial court “didn’t see” that the plaintiff’s alleged emotional distress was attributable to the defamation. The Fourth DCA noted that when considering remittitur, a trial court is required to consider five factors set forth in Fla. Stat. § 768.74. The Fourth DCA concluded that although the trial court had misgivings about the evidence and the jury’s verdict, the jury’s verdict was supported by competent substantial evidence, and the trial court lacked competent substantial evidence to support its finding that the jury’s verdict violated any of the section 768.74 factors. In reaching this conclusion, the Fourth DCA focused on the fact that the record was devoid of any grounds for the remittitur other than the conjecture by the trial court as to the thought processes of the jurors. The Fourth DCA opined that the trial court erred when it substituted its interpretation for the plausible interpretation accepted by the jury.