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Appellate Division Upholds Jury Verdict of $1 million for Auto Accident Causing Plaintiff to have Sustained 2 Herniated Discs

By on January 15, 2016 in Statute of Limitations with 0 Comments

In the recent case of Gibbs v. Camillo, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2810 (App. Div. Dec. 7, 2015), the Appellate Division was asked to overturn the jury verdict in the amount of $1 million, awarded as compensatory damages to the plaintiff for the two herniated discs she suffered from her automobile accident. The defendant argued that the compensatory damage award grossly exceeded what the evidence justified and that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a new trial or remittitur.

The jury found that the defendant Camillo was negligent in causing an automobile collision which left plaintiff Gibbs permanently injured. The plaintiff, age 46, was a front seat passenger in a vehicle when the defendant made a left hand turn in front of her vehicle, causing the accident.

As a result of the collision, the plaintiff suffered from both neck and back pain. While the neck pain resolved after about 7 months, the back pain persisted. She treated with a neurologist, pain management doctor, physical therapist, and her primary care physician. She received 2 epidural injections and, after a severe reaction to the second injection, the third planned injection was cancelled.

A discogram revealed that the plaintiff had 2 herniated discs in her back at L4-5 and L5-S1. Her doctor performed an endoscopic discectomy, in which portions of the disc were removed to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerve. She did obtain some relief from this surgery.

At the trial, the plaintiff testified that she still had spasms and back pain, which she described as constant and horrific. On a scale of 1 to 10, she stated that her pain was a 7. The pain interfered with her sleep and caused vertigo episodes.

Plaintiff testified about how the pain interfered with her quality of life. It impeded her ability to care for her young son, as well as performing simple housekeeping tasks and made her personal grooming more difficult. Her doctor testified that her injuries would never completely heal and that her back problems, which did not exist before the accident, were caused by her car accident.

The Appellate Division noted that the case law requires a presumption that a jury verdict is correct. The trial judge is not to interfere with the quantum of damages awarded by a jury unless “it is so disproportionate to the injury and resulting disability shown to shock his conscience and to convince him that to sustain the award would be manifestly unjust.”  The trial judge is to grant a new trial and set aside a jury award, if it “clearly and convincingly appears that there was a miscarriage of justice under the law.”

The defendant cited to the case of He v. Miller, 207 N.J. 230 (2011), in support of her argument to remit an award. In He, the plaintiff suffered two cervical herniated discs and the jury awarded $1 million. The judge remitted it to $200,000 and the Appellate Division upheld the remittitur. Ironically, the plaintiff refused to accept the remitted amount, the case was retried, and upon retrial, the new award was $500,000, which was affirmed upon appeal.

The Appellate Division held that the He case did not establish a benchmark for automobile accident cases involving herniated discs and chronic pain. The trial judge in the Gibb case expressed no doubts as to the authenticity of the plaintiff’s complaints. As an experienced trial attorney, he did not find the amount of the award shocking. He considered the plaintiff’s life expectancy and did not find the award excessive in light of the plaintiff’s back pain and vertigo and how her injuries affected her quality of life.

The Appellate Division deferred to the trial court’s “feel of the case” and concluded that the award was not so disproportionate to plaintiff’s injuries that it clearly and convincingly constituted a miscarriage of justice. Thus, the court found no basis to award a new trial due to the $1 million jury verdict.



About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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