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When juries award multimillion-dollar sums to injured persons, it may seem like a win. But often these awards can be overturned for being excessive.
What does it mean for a personal injury damage award to be excessive? Here's a general legal overview:
Large Damage Awards May Be Excessive
Sometimes juries can reach staggering monetary totals in awarding a plaintiff (or punishing a defendant) with huge damages in personal injury cases.
For example, a recent verdict for a man who had his leg amputated after a car crash totaled $19.1 million, and a Pennsylvania judge ruled last week that this was not excessive, reports The Legal Intelligencer. But just as often as these huge awards are accepted by judges, they can also be rejected for being excessive.
One area which is common for juries to get carried away is in awarding punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the wrongdoings of the defendant, and by definition they are intended to grant plaintiffs far more than what is needed to make them whole again.
However, there is a constitutional limit on these sorts of damage awards. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that there must be some sort of reasonable relation between the actual damages and the award of punitive damages. This has typically meant that punitive damage awards that are 10 times or more than the compensatory damages will be found as excessive and may be struck down.
Damage Caps and Appeals
If a defendant feels that an award against him or her is excessive, the award can be appealed. Appellate courts will decide whether the trial court abused its discretion in allowing a jury verdict to stand or even in issuing its own verdict. In either case, unless the verdict conflicts with statute or case law, this review is highly deferential to jury awards.
In an attempt to curb excessive damage awards, many states have passed damage caps, which prevent damages in certain categories from exceeding a certain dollar amount. Damage caps can cut into things like pain and suffering damages, which are often difficult to measure.
Personal injury awards that violate these damage cap laws will likely be struck down as excessive. On the other hand, courts are likely to uphold damage awards that seem excessive if they are granted by statute.
If you have questions about the damages award in your case, consult an experienced personal injury attorney today.