Man Injured in Fall on Steps Outside Apartment Not Entitled to Future Damages; California Court Holds Jury’s Award was Supported by Substantial Evidence

In this recent opinion, the California Court of Appeals addressed an appeal brought by the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit following a fall from the steps outside his apartment complex.  The court reviewed the rules of law concerning damages and held that substantial evidence supported the jury’s award. 

Plaintiff Kazimierz Sokol brought a lawsuit for personal injuries after suffering injuries on stairs outside his apartment.  Defendant Anna K. Rosciszewski, his landlord, stipulated that she had been negligent. After a trial, the jury found Ms. Rosciszewski’s negligence was a substantial cause of Mr. Sokol’s injuries. They awarded Mr. Sokol damages of $36,474.89 for past medical expenses and $5,000 for past pain and suffering. Mr. Sokol was not awarded any damages for future losses.

Mr. Sokol appealed, contending that the damages award was inadequate as a matter of law.  The court reviewed the medical bills as well as the opinions of a vocational rehabilitation counselor and a damages expert. At issue was whether substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict.

The court stated that determining an amount of damages to award is a question of fact for the jury. On appeal, the court is to determine whether there was an abuse of discretion. Regarding Mr. Sokol’s argument that the appellate court should reverse the award of medical expenses and order a new trial, the court stated that to be recoverable, medical expenses must be incurred and reasonable.  Turning to the actual charges, the court stated that Mr. Sokol did not meet his burden for obtaining recovery of the charges. Some of the fees were for preparing legal reports and therefore were not necessary for medical services. The court held that Mr. Sokol did not show the court or jury should have awarded a different figure.

Mr. Sokol also argued that a new trial was necessary because the jury did not award him damages for future economic loss, even though he would not be able to return to his auto mechanic business because of his physical limitations. The court stated there had not been objective evidence that his injuries would affect or interfere with his job prospects in the future.  The evidence, the court stated, did not show that Mr. Sokol would have worked as a full-time mechanic until he was almost 63 years old without the fall. The court noted that his proffered damages for future lost wages were speculative, and he had not shown that the court or jury clearly should have reached a different decision, as is required under the California Code of Civil Procedure.

Next, the court addressed Mr. Sokol’s argument that the jury’s award of $5,000 for past pain and suffering and award of nothing for future noneconomic damages was inadequate as a matter of law.  The court stated that Mr. Sokol’s treatment included oral medication, knee arthroscopy, three injections, and physical therapy. Compared to cases cited by Mr. Sokol, the jury’s award of $5,000 was not disproportionate to the severity of his established injury, according to the court.

Regarding an award of future damages, the court stated that this is a subjective determination within the discretion of the jury.  The court inferred that the jury had determined Mr. Sokol’s physical and psychological injuries from the fall had been largely resolved at the time of the trial and would not impede his future lifestyle.

Here, medical experts for both parties had opined that Mr. Sokol suffered from preexisting degenerative knee conditions that may have been exacerbated by his fall. Objective evidence did not show the severity of Mr. Sokol’s knee condition clearly, nor did the evidence show that the injury was disabling.

Conflicting evidence at trial regarding the severity of Mr. Sokol’s psychological injuries supported the jury’s determination not to award future noneconomic damages.

The skilled Southern California premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm can provide guidance and representation to those injured in an accident. We offer a no-obligation consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Prevailing Defendants in Personal Injury Lawsuit Can Recover Expert Fees Only When Judgment Entered as to All Defendants, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 25, 2016

California Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Defendant Due to Failure to Meet Burden of Proof Regarding Negligence Claim, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 27, 2016

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