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Pennsylvania Court Upholds Jury Verdict Award of Zero Future Medical Damages Award in Car Accident Lawsuit, Since Verdict was not “Shocking”

In a recent personal injury case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that the issue was whether the trial court should have allowed a new trial on the damages issue, which would mean that the verdict was so inadequate it should have shocked the trial court’s sense of justice. The court reviewed the considerations that aid a determination that a verdict is inadequate, such as whether the verdict fails to provide justice to the plaintiff and whether it is so inadequate it should not be permitted to stand.  The appellate court found that in this case, the jury verdict was not shocking, nor was the refusal to grant a new trial.

Kimberly Folino brought a lawsuit against Nathaniel Kaule and his father, Michael Kaule, on the ground that Nathaniel negligently operated Michael’s plumbing truck when he rear-ended her new SUV.  Liability was not seriously contested, and the main jury issue was both economic and non-economic damages for the plaintiff, Ms. Folino.

Ms. Folino alleged that she suffered bodily injuries, including a herniated disc that had not resolved and a concussion that had. Two medical witnesses testified as to the causal relationship between the collision and Ms. Folino’s injuries. The evidence stated that Ms. Folino suffered setbacks due to work-related activities and that these setbacks affected her ability to do her job, since her job entailed heavy lifting.

After testimony closed, the jury awarded future medical costs of $350, past lost earnings in the amount of $4,000, and $3,000 for past, present, and future pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment, and humiliation.  The jury awarded nothing for future lost earning capacity.

Ms. Folino filed a motion for post-trial relief on the ground that the verdict was inadequate.  She contended the court should grant a new trial on the damages issue alone. The court denied the motion and entered judgment in favor of Ms. Folino for $7,350.00. Ms. Folino then appealed.

The issue before the appellate court was whether Ms. Folino was entitled to a new trial on damages when the jury accepted medical testimony showing that she sustained a herniated disc requiring future treatment and likely inducing future problems, but it awarded $350 for future medical treatment and $3,000 for past and future non-economic damages.

On appeal, the court stated the standard for determining whether a verdict merits a new trial:  when the verdict is so contrary to the evidence that it shocks one’s sense of justice, and the evidence is not conflicting, or when the trial judge would have reached a different conclusion based on the exact same facts. Furthermore, the court stated that when a trial court has refused a new trial based on inadequacy, the appellate court exercises even greater caution in reviewing its action.

The court stated the entire record must be reviewed to determine whether an injustice had taken place. Ms. Folino submitted evidence showing that before the accident, she earned an average of $1,052.52 per week.  The court stated that the record showed Ms. Folino’s injuries allegedly forced her to miss three weeks of work and then work at a reduced rate. She treated her pain with over-the-counter medicine.

The jury awarded Ms. Folino $4,000 for past lost earnings, $3,000 for pain and suffering, and $350 for future medical expenses. The appellate court stated that this award was reasonable with regard to the proven damages.

Additionally, the court stated that Ms. Folino had been diagnosed with pre-existing degenerative disc disease. She had received treatment from a homeopathic chiropractor before the accident.  The court stated that a jury is free to believe all, some, or none of the witness testimony.  A jury can consider preexisting conditions or other causes that may have contributed to an injury or disability.

To determine whether the verdict should be set aside, the appellate court listed specific considerations. These included whether the verdict indicated passion, prejudice, or corruption on the part of the jury; whether the verdict revealed the jury misapprehended or disregarded the court’s instructions; whether the verdict bore no reasonable relationship  to the plaintiff’s losses; whether the verdict was so inadequate that it should not be allowed to stand; and whether the verdict showed a failure of justice to the plaintiff.  Here, the verdict did not show a failure of justice to Ms. Folino, nor was it so inadequate it should not stand. A verdict cannot be disturbed based only on the small amount of damages awarded, or because a reviewing court might have awarded more.

The court stated they were not shocked by the jury verdict or the trial court’s refusal to grant a new trial. The denial of the motion for post-trial relief was affirmed.

Personal injury lawsuits often involve issues of credibility, particularly regarding evidence and proving fault.  At Needle Law Firm, our Pennsylvania auto accident attorneys can help you seek the compensation you deserve and provide guidance on your legal options. For a free consultation, call today at 570-344-1266.

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