Articles Posted in Remittitur

Railroad employee Anthony Williams was injured at work. He sued BNSF Railway, his employer, and got a judgment for $2.6 million.

Claiming there were more than 40 errors at the trial, BNSF asked the trial court to decrease or throw out the verdict. The company also asked for a setoff “in the amount of taxes payable as a result of lost wages awarded to Williams.”

The trial court denied BNSF’s request to throw out the verdict, but reserved a ruling on the “tax issue.” A written order order was not issued; nor did the court request one; nor apparently did the parties offer to submit one.

Jerry Slovinski sued James Elliot, the CEO of Slovinski’s former employer, for defamation. Slovinski claimed that disparaging and untrue remarks were made about him by Elliot to one of the company’s suppliers.

A jury awarded Slovinski $81,600 for compensatory damages, and $2 million for punitive damages. The trial court thought the punitive damages verdict was too high, so it remitted it to $1 million. Slovinski appealed the remittitur, but the appellate court lowered the punitive damages verdict even more, to $81,600.

Slovinski appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. He argued that the original $2 million verdict should stand because neither the trial court nor the appellate court stated specific reasons for lowering the verdict.

In a wrongful death case, plaintiff was awarded $2 million for loss of support and $25 million for loss of society. While the evidence showed a close family relationship, the verdict still shocked the judicial conscience and was ruled to be excessive.

The appellate court decided that remittitur was preferable to a new trial on damages because there were no trial errors and loss of consortium was warranted by the evidence. Rather than reach the new damage figure, the appellate court remanded to the trial court to revise the loss of consortium award. The appellate court gave minimal guidance to the trial court, stating, “[W]e would find it difficult to deem reasonable a loss of society award of more than seven figures in this case and would certainly find unreasonable an award of any more than one-half of the loss of society award settled upon by the jury.”

This opinion contains interesting discussion about the consumer expectations and risk utility tests, and the propriety of various jury instructions. Get the whole opinion, Mikolajczyk v. Ford Motor Co., No. 1-05-3133 (11/22/06), by clicking here.

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