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Clarification of Award of Damages for Future Pain and Suffering

In personal injury cases, we are often asked to compute damages for future pain and suffering.  Recently, there was an interesting turn of events in a jury verdict in which the plaintiff in a personal injury case was awarded such damages. 

In this malpractice action, the plaintiff sought damages for, among other things, injuries sustained as the result of the alleged negligence of defendant doctors and a hospital.  After a trial, a jury found that the negligence of the hospital was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.  The jury awarded damages to the plaintiff for past and future pain and suffering as well as medical costs.

The jury returned a verdict that, among other things, awarded damages to the plaintiff in the amount of “$60,000 for future pain and suffering over a thirty year period.”  The judgment entered was for $60,000 payable in equal annual installments of $2,000 per year for each of 30 years.
 
Subsequent to the trial, the attorney for the plaintiff discovered, by talking to the forewomen of the jury, that what the jury had intended to award the plaintiff for damages for future pain and suffering was $60,000 per year for 30 years, thus yielding a total of $1,800,000.  The forewoman told the plaintiff’s attorney that the jury understood that it was “to record the amount awarded per year and then the number of years it was to cover; [the jury] did not understand [that it was] to put the total amount of the award for the entire 30 year period.”

The attorney for the plaintiff subsequently contacted the court and was granted leave to submit “supplemental motion” papers, which included an affidavit from each juror stating that the jury intended to award the plaintiff $1.8 million in damages for future pain and suffering, i.e., an award of damages of $60,000 per year for a period of 30 years, rather than a total of $60,000 to be paid over a period of 30 years.

The defendant hospital objected to the “supplemental motion” on the ground that juror affidavits may not be used to impeach the verdict but added by way of its own supplemental motion that, in light of the issues raised by the plaintiff’s submissions, the interests of justice and fairness required the court to grant a new trial on all issues.  The Supreme Court granted plaintiffs’ “supplemental motion” to correct the verdict with respect to the award of damages for plaintiff’s future pain and suffering and denied a new trial.

On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the court’s denial for a new trial and held that the court properly granted plaintiff’s “supplemental motion” to correct the verdict with respect to the award of damages for plaintiff’s future pain and suffering.  The Appellate Division acknowledges that “public policy concerns disfavor the use of juror affidavits for post-trial impeachment of a verdict, but held that in this case the information afforded by the affidavits of the jurors is not to impeach, but to support the verdict really given by them and where, as here, there has been an honest mistake which, if not corrected, would prevent the findings of the jury as it actually was from being carried out, the correction of the verdict by the court is not an impeachment of the verdict by the jurors.

 

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