A Florida appellate court recently reversed a lower court’s ruling that when the amount of the judgment in a tort case is modified on appeal, post-trial interest must accrue from the date of the verdict rather than from the date of the original judgment. The court reasoned that the earlier accrual date in such circumstances unjustly punishes the losing party.
In the fall of 2011, a jury rendered a verdict of roughly $7.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit, finding appellate Shoemaker 40 percent at fault for decedent Stephen Sliger’s death. Following the verdict, Shoemaker and his co-defendants filed a motion to cap non-economic damages according to section 766.118(2) of Florida Statutes. They argued that under 766.118, the non-economic damages should be capped at $500,000. Sonia Sliger, the representative of Stephen Sliger’s estate, responded that section 766.118’s damages limitation violated the Florida and U.S. constitutions.
Following several hearings, the trial court entered a final judgment for Sliger in the amount of roughly $1.3 million. It was calculated by measuring the appellant’s degree of fault and employing the non-economic damages cap under section 766.118(2).
After the rendering of the final judgment, both parties appealed. In November 2013, the appeals court affirmed the lower court decision without explanation. In March 2014, the Florida Supreme Court held that under the rational basis test, section 766.118 violates the Florida Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The state high court concluded that the limit on wrongful death non-economic damages violates equal protection because it unfairly and illogically burdens injured parties when medical negligence generates numerous claimants.
In May 2014, the court of appeal withdrew its November 2013 opinion and reversed the part of the judgment that capped the non-economic damages pursuant to section 766.118. The court then remanded the case back to the trial court to enter an amended judgment without the section 766.118 reduction.
Sliger’s proposed amended judgment awarded her interest from the date of the jury verdict in 2011. The appellant argued that Sliger was not entitled to interest from the time between the verdict and the judgment. Siding with Sliger, the trial court entered an amended final judgment awarding the appellant interest from the date of the jury verdict. Shoemaker and his co-defendants appealed the amended judgment.
The appellate court first noted that normally, Florida law dictates that interest on a money judgment in a tort case begins accruing on the date of the judgment fixing the award amount. On the other hand, when a trial court concludes proceedings without entering a damages award, and the appeals court remands for the entry of a money judgment, Florida appellate rule 9.340(c) dictates that the post-trial interest accrual date should be the date of the verdict.
However, the appeals court explained, if the trial court originally entered a money judgment, and only the amount of the award is modified on appeal, there is no rational reason to employ rule 9.340(c). In such a case, interest should begin accruing on the date the original judgment was entered. According to the statute’s express language, the rule applies only when a money judgment is ordered on reversal. It does not address – and therefore does not apply – when the reversal orders an amended final judgment that only alters the award’s amount.
The appeals court concluded that employing rule 9.340(c) to create an earlier starting date to accrue interest would unfairly punish defendants. It therefore “decline[d] to adopt an illogical, unjust interpretation of rule 9.340(c).” The appeals court reversed the amended final judgment and remanded, ordering an amended money judgment to award Sliger post-trial interest from the date of the original judgment rather than from the date of the verdict.
If you lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, you should contact a dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as you are able. To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website today.
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