Tennessee Court Affirms Ruling Reducing “Grossly Disproportionate” Award

When a plaintiff wins a lawsuit, the jury must typically decide the amount of damages that the plaintiff should be awarded, based on the evidence that the plaintiff has presented at trial. When a plaintiff so requests, juries can award damages for both economic injuries that were suffered (such as costs incurred or wages lost) and noneconomic injuries, such as pain and suffering. While parties may attempt to quantify noneconomic injuries to make it easier for juries to decide what should be awarded, the jury has discretion in determining how much money they think is appropriate. When a jury awards a plaintiff an amount of money that seems far too low or far too high, parties may appeal to the court for relief, asking the court to add to the award or reduce the award, based on the evidence presented at trial.

In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Epiphany Salon and Day Spa requested that the court reduce the amount of money awarded to the plaintiff after she sued them for injuries she experienced after getting a facial at their salon. The plaintiff, S.W., went to the salon after receiving a gift certificate there and had a facial that included a chemical peel. After she left the salon, her face continued to burn from the chemical peel, and she experienced ongoing issues with redness, rosacea, and broken capillaries. According to S.W., the injuries from the chemical peel forced her to wear makeup more often, required her to meet additional doctors and pay for additional products, and greatly affected her social life. She provided specific evidence of the amount of money she had spent on doctor’s visits (approximately $2,000) and on products (approximately $4,000) and also requested damages for pain and suffering, past mental suffering, and disfigurement. In total, the jury awarded her $125,000.

Epiphany immediately moved for remittitur, asking the court to reduce the damages awarded because they were disproportionate to the harm that S.W. suffered. The trial court considered the evidence presented and determined that the jury’s award was “grossly disproportionate,” given the limited economic damages S.W. suffered. The trial court also noted that S.W. had experienced only minor pain and suffering and that, although she claimed past mental suffering, evidence suggested that she continued to live a virtually similar life after her facial. In total, the court reduced the award to $47,800. S.W. appealed this reduction to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the jury generally has the duty to award damages, but it also held that remittitur is appropriate when it will help to resolve the issues and avoid a new trial, and when the jury’s award is grossly excessive. In reviewing a remittitur, appeals courts look at (1) the reason for the adjustment; (2) the amount of the suggested adjustment; and (3) the proof of damages presented at trial. Here, the appeals court held that the trial court had provided adequate reasoning for its adjustment, including S.W.’s limited economic damages and only minor mental health and pain and suffering damages. Second, the trial court noted that although the reduction in the award by the court was substantial, S.W. had presented no argument to suggest that this reduction “destroyed” her award or was otherwise an overreach by the court. Third, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence upon which the trial court relied supported the trial court’s ultimate outcome and the reduction in the award. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court’s remittitur was reasonable and affirmed the decision.

Issues of remittitur can be difficult to anticipate during a trial, since they only arise when a jury issues a damages award that a party finds to be excessive in light of the injury that occurred. If you are a plaintiff facing a request for remittitur, it is important to clearly and comprehensively convey to the court the reason why the award accurately reflects the damages that you have incurred and to remind the court that damages are the purview of the jury. Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley is an experienced trial lawyer and advocate who can assist you in fighting back against claims of excessive damages and advocate for jury awards to be upheld. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property Damage, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 6, 2017.

Determining Damages in Tennessee When the Jury’s Verdict Exceeds The Amount Requested, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 2, 2016.

Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim For Lack of Physical Injury, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 21, 2016.