$15.8 Million Jury Award Reduced in Wellington Family’s Wrongful Death Case: Wisekal v. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida has overturned a jury’s award of approximately $15.8 million in non-economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. In Wisekal v. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, a laboratory processed two cancer screening tests for a Wellington woman over the course of two years. Although both tests returned a negative result, the woman went to a hospital emergency room for pain and learned she had a large cancerous tumor. She later died as a result of the cancer, and her estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the laboratory and the cytotechnologist who examined the woman’s laboratory specimen in federal court. Following trial, a jury awarded the woman’s estate over $20 million in economic and non-economic damages. Since the jurors determined the woman was 25 percent at fault for her death, the final award was reduced by one-quarter.

In response to the jury’s multi-million dollar award, the defendants filed a motion for remittitur or a new trial on the issue of damages. When a party to a lawsuit files a motion for remittitur, the party is asking the judge to reduce the amount of a jury’s verdict because it was excessive based upon the facts of the case. The Southern District of Florida first said the evidence offered at trial reasonably supported the jury’s award for lost earnings and other economic damages. Next, the court examined the defendants’ claim that $20 million in non-economic damages such as loss of companionship for the woman’s surviving family members was too high. Although the federal court disagreed with the defendants’ argument that the jury award could only have resulted from passion or prejudice, the Southern District of Florida held that the non-economic damages award was not logically supported by the evidence offered at trial.

Florida law requires that a non-economic damages award must be reasonably related to both the facts of a case and the general trend in similar cases. When determining whether a jury’s award was excessive, a court applying Florida law must determine if it was the result of prejudice or passion, if the jurors ignored any relevant evidence, if the award was derived through speculation and conjecture, if the award was reasonably related to the injured party’s damages suffered, and if reasonable people could have arrived at the same damages award based upon the evidence. Since the jury’s non-economic damages award was excessive when compared to similar wrongful death cases, and there was no evidence offered to support such a large award, the court granted the defendants’ motion for remittitur on the issue of non-economic damages. The Southern District of Florida reduced the non-economic damages in the case to $5 million before the deceased woman’s comparative fault was taken into account. The court also ordered a new trial on the issue of non-economic damages, should the woman’s estate refuse to accept the reduced award.

If you lost a treasured loved one due to someone else’s negligent act, you may have a wrongful death claim. To discuss your case with a diligent South Florida advocate, please call Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact our knowledgeable attorneys online.

Additional Resources:

Wisekal v. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, Dist. Court, SD Florida 2014

Jury awards $16 million in cancer death of Wellington mom, by Jane Musgrave, The Palm Beach Post

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