An auto accident can leave a victim with permanent injuries that affect their ability to work and pay for future medical expenses. In order to recover such damages in a personal injury lawsuit, a victim must adequately document any losses of potential future earnings or anticipated medical expenses. While juries may be sympathetic to purely speculative claims in these areas, judges are not, and sometimes large damage awards are reduced or tossed out on appeal.
Court Reduces Jury Verdict in Disfigured Sunbather Case
In a recent high-profile Florida case, a state appeals court reduced a $2.6 million jury verdict in favor of a Kansas woman who was permanently disfigured in a horrific 2011 accident. The victim was sunbathing on a public beach in Volusia County, when a beach patrol officer made an improper turn in his vehicle and ran over the victim’s head. According to court records, the victim suffered a skull fracture and other internal injuries which required six days of hospitalization, followed by reconstructive surgery on her ear and eyelid. The victim continues to suffer from lingering paralysis on one side of her face, hearing problems, and other chronic symptoms.
The victim sued the Volusia County for negligence as owner of the vehicle which hit her. A jury ruled in the victim’s favor and awarded her a total of $2.6 million in damages. The County only appealed $600,000 of that award, which the jury assigned to the victim’s “diminished earning capacity” and “future medical expenses.” In a November 13, 2015, opinion, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach agreed with the County “there was no reasonable evidence” to support the jury’s verdict on those issues, and accordingly reduced the plaintiff’s award to $2 million.
With respect to diminished earning capacity, the jury awarded $500,000 in damages based on the victim’s claim her injuries would “cost her career” as a teacher’s assistant. In fact, the appeals court observed, the victim was “voluntarily unemployed” at the time of the accident and managed to find work as a teacher’s assistant about a year after her accident. According to the court, none of the evidence presented at trial suggested she was unable to satisfactorily perform at her job. Nonetheless, the victim argued she was at danger of losing her job in the future due to her injuries. The appeals court said that argument was “purely speculative” and should not have been presented to the jury.
Regarding future medical expenses, Florida law only permits a victim to recover those costs which are “reasonably certain” to occur. Here, the jury awarded the victim $100,000 based on her claims she might require additional ear surgery and treatment for back pain. But the appeals court said, “There was no evidence from which the jury could infer the same with reasonable certainty, just multiple speculative assertions with regard to future treatment.”
Need Help Following a Car Accident?
A case like this illustrates the importance of documenting all injuries and medical treatment following an auto accident. You cannot rely on a court to “take your word for it” without providing adequate proof to corroborate your claims. That is why you should always work with an experienced Clearwater personal injury attorney following a serious accident. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., today if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.