The feeling of relief, jubilation, or shock that a victim in a personal injury case may experience upon being awarded a large verdict by a jury can quickly diminish if the verdict is reduced by a judge shortly after. The victim may be surprised to learn that this is within the court’s power, especially when he or she was relying on the jury to make the right decision.
In some cases, the reduction of an awarded jury verdict may be because there is a finding that the victim was at fault in the incident that led to an injury. This is because some states use a modified comparative negligence doctrine. This means that if a jury finds a victim was partially at fault, then it can reduce a verdict by the percentage of the fault attributable to the victim. A plaintiff who is more than 50 percent at fault cannot recover damages at all.
In other cases, a victim’s jury award may be reduced where an appeals court determines that an award is excessive for one reason or another, including an improper award of punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages that are awarded by a judge or jury to punish the at-fault party (defendant) if their behavior or actions that caused the accident was especially egregious. Punitive damages are also meant to send a message to society that this behavior is unacceptable.
There are some cases in which punitive damages cannot be awarded, for example in cases against a governmental entity. If there has been an award of punitive damages in cases where a court finds that as a matter of law or policy they should not have been awarded, it is likely that the award will be reversed.
The other way in which a victim may find themselves losing on a jury award of damages is if the court grants a defendant’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, also referred to a s a JNOV. This is a motion that the losing party puts forth after the verdict but before final judgment is entered in the case.
This is a post-trial motion that is considered somewhat routine in many cases, and although not that often, such motions are sometimes granted. When a party presenting this motion is successful, the judge can reverse the finding of liability based on the law, and with that reverse any monetary award altogether. A denial or reduction of an award may be appealed to a higher court, and in some cases, an appeal can lead to a reversal.
In some cases, it is the plaintiff who believes a negative jury verdict is not upheld by the evidence and their personal injury attorney may file a JNOV motion. If granted, the amount of damages the victim may collect is determined later.
Although the majority of personal injury cases settle before they ever reach the courtroom, litigating a personal injury case can be complex and requires the skill and legal expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer.