When it comes to large medical malpractice and personal injury verdicts, the mainstream media loves to highlight these "outrageous" or "runaway" jury verdicts. After all, they feed into the common perception that juries are regularly out of control with their awards. A prime example of this is the McDonald's Coffee case. There, the media went into a frenzy when a jury awarded $2.9 million to an elderly woman who spilled scalding hot coffee between her legs. Although the judge reduced the verdict to $640,000, the mainstream media never covered that part of the story. Instead, they only focused on the initial jury verdict (citing it as an example of a broken legal system). Nor did they give attention to the fact McDonalds provided their coffee to customers at between 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (just below the boiling point of water), the eight-day hospitalization and multiple surgeries the plaintiff endured, or the fact there were over 700 prior complaints and settlements involving McDonald's scalding hot coffee. The fact is judges regularly reduce jury verdicts that are deemed "excessive." Indeed, that is exactly what happened recently when a New York appellate court reduced a $60 million dollar medical malpractice verdict for pain and suffering to $600,000. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am always frustrated when I hear others complain about the need for caps on damages because of out of control jury verdicts. Invariably, these critics do not know that trial judges reduce these awards or refuse to mention this in their article because it is not as sensational.
When a judge reduces a jury's verdict, it is called a remittitur. In Illinois and other states, judges are allowed to order a remittitur when a jury's verdict is excessive. Jury verdicts may be considered excessive if the amount of the verdict is so high compared to the damages that it could only be a result of passion and/or prejudice.
In the recent New York case, the plaintiff weighed nearly 400 pounds when she underwent gastric bypass surgery. As a result of the surgery, she was left with large amounts of excess skin on her arms, abdomen and thighs. Several years later, the defendant surgeon performed surgery on her thighs to remove the excess skin. As a result of that surgery, the plaintiff maintains she sustained severe and permanent injuries to her vaginal region. The jury returned a whopping verdict of $60 million. Even the plaintiff's lawyer conceded the verdict was excessive and suggested the verdict be reduced to $12 million. The trial judge agreed the verdict was excessive but reduced the verdict to $4 million. On appeal, the appellate court further reduced the verdict to $600,000. Thus, our "broken legal system" reduced a $60 million dollar verdict to $600,000. Unfortunately, these examples of the legal system at work seldom make headlines because they are not sensational.
www.neworkinjuryasesblog.com, $60 Million Medical Malpractice Pain and Suffering Verdict Reduced On Appeal to $600,000, August 29, 2011