Recently, the Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico upheld a jury’s verdict and the denial of a defense motion for a new trial or a remittitur of the damages awarded by the jury. The appellate court declined to use mathematic ratios as the basis for reversing a jury award, and also affirmed the award to the plaintiffs of prejudgment interest.
The trial underlying the appellate ruling occurred following a tragic accident on the interstate highway between Las Cruces and Deming, New Mexico. A FedEx combination tractor-trailer vehicle driven at a speed of 65 miles an hour struck a small pickup truck that was stopped or barely moving. There were multiple fatalities. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed. The driver of the pickup truck was also killed together with her four year old daughter; that driver’s nineteen month old son was seriously injured.
The husband of the woman driving the pickup truck that was struck sued individually, and as personal representative for his daughter and next friend for his son. He also asserted claims for personal injury and wrongful death. The father of the woman driving the pickup truck sued, as her personal representative, for wrongful death. Together with his wife he also asserted claims via intervention for loss of consortium resulting from the death of their daughter. FedEx stipulated prior to trial that it would pay for damages attributable to FedEx and the other named defendants. Following the trial, the jury awarded compensatory damages in excess of $165 million in favor of the plaintiffs. The jury awarded no punitive damages.
The defendants moved for a new trial or remittitur of the damages award, arguing that the verdict was excessive. The court denied the motions, concluding that there was substantial evidence to support the verdict, that the verdict did not result from improper factors, and that it would be inappropriate to substitute the judgment of the court for the judgment of the jury. After an evidentiary hearing the court awarded prejudgment interest at a rate of 5%. The defendants appealed. They did not challenge liability, limiting their appeal to contesting the damages and prejudgment interest awards.
The defendants lost the appeal. To win the appellate court would have needed to conclude that there had been an abuse of discretion by the lower court. This is a difficult standard of review to satisfy because, as the appellate court explained, appellate courts in New Mexico are deferential with respect to jury awards of damages and also with respect to trial court assessments of motions for a new trial. At the core of the appeal was that the defense challenge of large awards for non-economic injuries. The court rejected these arguments, explaining at pages 16-17 of the ruling that “our judicial system relies on juries and trial courts, as the representatives of their local community, to best evaluate and determine the value of these non-economic injuries, including pain and suffering, and the loss of life.” The court also declined to compare the damages awarded in the case to damages awards in other cases, reasoning that each case must be decided on its own facts and circumstances. After a lengthy review of the record presented to it and the parties’ arguments, the appellate court upheld the damages award and the award of prejudgment interest in favor of the plaintiffs.
If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, there may be grounds for an award of damages. An award of monetary damages can assist people who are injured and their families with the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident. To understand more about your case, call New Mexico car accident lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C. We provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or online.
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