Court Reverses Jury’s Zero-Dollar Award for Past Non-Economic Damages in Recent Florida Car Accident Case

While juries can determine the appropriate amount of compensation to award a plaintiff, a jury’s award must be consistent. On May 29, 2019, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida car accident case holding that the jury’s zero-dollar award for the plaintiff’s claim of past non-economic damages was legally insufficient because it was inconsistent with the jury’s determination that the plaintiff suffered injuries that required medical treatment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light when he was struck by another car. Evidently, the defendant made an illegal left turn into the intersection and hit a vehicle that then struck the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff did not receive medical care at the scene and did not go to the hospital after the accident.

Nearly four years after the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the car as well as the owner of the car. The plaintiff claimed that the driver was negligent in causing the accident and that the owner of the vehicle was negligent in entrusting her vehicle to the driver. The defendant acknowledged that the defendant driver was responsible for causing the accident, and so the trial proceeded only on the issue of damages.

At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence that the accident caused aggravation of an existing back injury as well as new neck injuries. The plaintiff explained that he went to the doctor a few days after the crash, and underwent a series of MRIs. After more conservative treatment failed to fix the problem, the plaintiff had surgery to replace two herniated discs. The plaintiff explained that his condition improved, but that he still suffered from significant pain.

The plaintiff’s medical experts testified that the plaintiff’s injuries were permanent and that he would likely need surgery in the future. The defendants presented evidence suggesting that both the plaintiff’s neck and back injuries were pre-existing. The jury found that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and awarded him $50,000 for past medical expenses and $200,000 for future medical expenses. The jury awarded the plaintiff nothing for past or future non-economic damages.

The plaintiff appealed the jury’s decision not to award any past or future non-economic damages. The defendant argued that because the jury determined he suffered past and future injuries, it was inappropriate to award him nothing for his pain and suffering.

The court reversed the jury’s zero-dollar award for past non-economic damages but affirmed the jury’s decision not to award any future economic damages. The court explained that a jury cannot issue a zero-dollar award when 1.) evidence of the existence of past economic damages is substantially undisputed and 2.) when the jury finds that the plaintiff suffered injuries that required treatment as evidenced by an award of past medical expenses. Here, the court noted that the jury awarded the plaintiff compensation for his past medical expenses and that it was “substantially undisputed” that the plaintiff suffered injury to his neck.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim for future non-economic damages, noting that it was within the jury’s power to issue such an award because the evidence of future non-economic damages was hotly contested.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Florida car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. At the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent injury victims in a wide variety of injury cases, including motor vehicle accidents. To discuss your situation with one of our dedicated South Florida injury lawyers, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.

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