California Court of Appeals Upholds $1.25 Million Jury Award in Car Accident Case

The California Court of Appeals (4th District, Division 2) recently rendered an opinion that is instructive on the matter of non-economic damage awards in car accident personal injury cases.

The case, Onley v. Schneider Nat. Carriers, Inc., Cal. Ct. App., 4th Dist. (2014), arose out of a multi-car accident, in which car A was traveling in the far right lane. A tractor-trailer being driven by the defendant tried to pass, side swiping the vehicle, which then spun to the left, crossed in front of the truck, and hit the center divider. A minivan in the far left lane, being driven by Onley, then hit car A.

At trial, a jury found the truck driver liable for the accident, and it also found the driver of car A not liable. The jury designated awards for the occupants of car A and awarded $1,363,579.70 to Onley, and the trial court entered judgment according to those amounts.

The defendant considered the damages awards “grossly excessive” and thus appealed. Following the filing of the appeal, however, the defendant settled with the individuals in car A, and then just before before the opinion was to be released, and after it had already been drafted, the defense counsel notified the court that it had settled with Onley as well. Due to the lateness of the notification, and the court’s opinion that the appeal was unfounded, it issued the opinion anyway.

The defendant’s main contention was that the noneconomic damages were more than 10 times Onley’s economic damages. Among other statements regarding the proper standard of review, the court stated that it will “interfere only when the award is so disproportionate to the injuries suffered that it shocks the conscience and virtually compels the conclusion the award was based on passion or prejudice.”

As a general matter, the court stated that it does not favor the artificial imposition of a formula in order to determine damages, since noneconomic damages are nuanced and not susceptible to mathematical calculations. Furthermore, comparison of noneconomic damages awards in other cases is not determinative in terms of whether a certain award was reasonable. Additionally, the court agreed with Onley’s argument that Schneider forfeited the ability to challenge her noneconomic damages, since it did not present any specific evidence that the award was unreasonable in comparison with the impact that the injury has had on Onley’s life and well-being.

Even if the argument was not forfeited, there was substantial evidence that the injury was devastating and life-threatening to Onley. She remains in constant pain, suffers from sleep deprivation, had to leave the job that she loved, forfeit leisure pursuits, and is limited in the things that she can do herself without help, including personal care, grooming, grocery shopping, or even walking her dog. Additionally, the court noted that she did not seek future lost wages, presumably since she was able to retire, nor did she seek future medical expenses, since her condition was untreatable. Those two additional factors would have increased her economic damages, thus further rendering any supposed ratio of comparison improper in this case. Thus, the court found that the noneconomic damages award was well-founded, considering the impact of the car accident on Onley’s life, and it affirmed.

As this case demonstrates, trucking accidents are usually very serious and can be debilitating. Federal law regulates truck drivers in an attempt to ensure the safety of both the drivers and others on the road. Sometimes, however, employers may attempt to circumvent these safety laws by providing incentives for drivers who deliver their loads in a shorter amount of time. If you have been involved in a truck accident in the state of California, contact Sharifi Firm, APC to discuss the potential of gaining financial restitution. Contact us today by calling 1-866-422-7222 or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Issues Ruling in Multi-Car Collision Lawsuit, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published February 3, 2015

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