California Appellate Court Holds Plaintiff Had Not Established Error in Jury’s Award of Damages Following Fall, Specifically for Decreased Quality of Life

Recently, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a plaintiff’s motion for a new trial on the ground that the damages that she was awarded by a jury in a California premises liability action were inadequate.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the award of $5,000 for non-economic damages was inadequate, since the evidence had not shown that after the accident, she suffered a decreased quality of life.

The plaintiff in this case lived alone in an apartment in an adult living facility. At 91 years old, she suffered from macular degeneration and used a cane or walker occasionally.  The plaintiff’s son eventually contracted for two hours of caregiving services daily, and he had made clear to both caretaker defendants (and the defendant caretaker company) that the plaintiff was not to leave the premises of the adult living facility.

After taking the plaintiff to a store, without her cane or walker, the plaintiff fell at the curb, stepping toward the car.  She was taken to the hospital and found that she had sustained a right hip fracture. Her surgery and care totaled $14,118.29, which the parties agreed was reasonable and necessary. The plaintiff was discharged from the hospital and entered rehabilitative care, which totaled over $30,000.

The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the defendants, in connection with her injuries suffered in her fall. The jury determined that the defendants had been negligent and rendered a verdict for the plaintiff on her negligence claim, apportioning fault between the defendants.  They awarded past economic damages for a total of $44,506.65, future economic damages for $126,000 for caregiving services, and $5,000 for non-economic damages.

The plaintiff then filed a motion for a new trial, based on the argument the jury’s $5,000 non-economic damages award was inadequate.  The judge denied the motion, finding that the evidence showed that before her fall, the plaintiff had not been physically and mentally well.

On appeal, the court stated the rule that a new trial will not be granted on the ground of inadequate damages unless the evidence, after being weighed, indicates that the court or jury should have reached a different decision.  The court determines whether damages are inadequate, and an appellate court does not reverse that decision unless the record suggests the jury’s award was a product of passion, prejudice, or corruption on the part of the jury.

Here, the plaintiff contended the award of $5,000 for non-economic damages was inadequate because she was injured significantly when she fell, and she lost her quality of life and independence.  The court argued that while the plaintiff may not find that $5,000 is enough, she had not established, by law, that it is inadequate.

Regarding the allegation that the plaintiff had suffered a loss of enjoyment of life, the court stated that there had been substantial conflict regarding her mental condition before the fall.  While the plaintiff argued that the evidence was irrelevant, the court stated that she missed the point. In fact, she bore the burden of proof regarding damages, and the jurors were in the best position to observe witnesses and evaluate testimony.  Here, the court stated that the plaintiff had not established that an award of $5,000 for non-economic damages was so meager as to shock the conscience.

The court affirmed the decision denying the motion for a new trial.

At Sharifi Firm, our dedicated Southern California premises liability lawyers represent individuals hurt by the negligence of others.  We provide a free, no-obligation consultation and can be contacted by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Reverses Judgment in Favor of Insurer Following Car Accident: Reasonable Jury Could Find Insurer Acted Unreasonably in Denying Plaintiff’s Demand for Damages, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 22, 2017

Man Injured in Fall on Steps Outside Apartment Not Entitled to Future Damages; California Court Holds Jury’s Award was Supported by Substantial Evidence, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 13, 2016

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