Court Upholds Jury’s Zero-Dollar Award in Car Accident Case

Sometimes proving the damages in an accident case is just as important as proving the defendant was at fault. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court upheld a jury’s award of zero dollars after a woman claimed she was injured by another driver in an auto accident. According to the court’s written opinion, the driver hit the back of the woman’s car when she was stopped at a traffic light. The driver admitted that he was at fault; however, he argued the woman did not sustain any damages in the accident. As a result, the case went to trial only on the issue of damages.

Car AccidentThe woman testified that at the time her car was hit, she did not suffer any cuts, scrapes, bruises, swelling, or other visible signs of injury. Her body did not come into contact with any part of her car. Photos taken of her car after the accident did not show any obvious damage.

After the accident, the woman was brought to a hospital at her request. She testified at trial that she had pain in her lower back and the right side of her neck. She said the hospital staff did an x-ray of her neck and back, gave her medicine, and recommended that she see an orthopedist. The woman went to an orthopedist and received physical therapy. However, she did not present any medical evidence to support her claim that her back and neck were injured. Finally, she testified that she had previously had back surgery before the accident occurred.

An orthopedist who saw her about 10 months after the accident explained that an MRI taken of her shoulder showed a partial tear in her bicep tendon and a labral tear. She received an injection, underwent surgery, and went to physical therapy. The orthopedist related the shoulder injury to the accident because the woman had said the pain started at the time of the accident. But the MRI also showed other conditions that may have existed before the accident occurred. The woman claimed her medical bills totaled about $73,000.

The driver had an expert in orthopedic surgery testify on the issue of damages. The expert found there was no connection between the shoulder injury and the accident. He believed the woman sustained a “muscular strain injury” to her neck and to her lower back, which would heal within a few weeks. He also testified that medical treatment could help within the first six weeks after the injury. At the end of the trial, the jury awarded the woman zero dollars in damages.

On appeal, the woman argued she was entitled to a new trial because the jury was required to find that she suffered lower back and neck injuries that were symptomatic for at least six weeks, and she was owed damages for her treatment for those injuries for at least six weeks. However, the appeals court explained that the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony was based on the woman’s own testimony that she was injured in the accident, and the jury was free to accept or reject her testimony. If the jury rejected the plaintiff’s testimony, the jury need not credit her expert’s testimony. Thus, the jury’s finding of zero dollars in damages was supported by the evidence.

Motions for New Trials Based on an Inconsistent or Inadequate Verdict

In Florida, a jury verdict in a civil case is presumed to be valid. On appeal, a verdict will not be overturned as long as there is competent, substantial evidence to support the verdict. Florida courts have distinguished between verdicts that are inadequate and those that are inconsistent. That is, a verdict may be inadequate if it fails to award enough money to a plaintiff or awards no money at all, but that does not necessarily mean the verdict was inconsistent. On the other hand, a verdict is inconsistent when two findings are mutually exclusive. However, as long as there is competent, substantial evidence to support a verdict, the verdict will not be disturbed.

Should You Seek Advice from a Personal Injury Attorney?

If you have been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. At Friedman, Rodman, & Frank, our personal injury attorneys possess over 100 years of combined experience in handling car accident claims and lawsuits. We are prepared to fight for your right to compensation for the injuries you sustained. Contact us toll-free at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Denial of Plaintiff’s Request to Extend Notice Deadline, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 19, 2017.

State Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Claim Against Teacher in Wrongful Death Lawsuit, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published February 2, 2017.

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