Personal InjuryMassachusetts Court Upholds Motion for New Trial Based on Excessive Damages Awarded to Victim of Car Accident When Judge Found Medical Evidence Failed to Support Alleged Harm

March 28, 20170

In a personal injury lawsuit following a car accident, the issue of liability, or legal fault, was conceded. This means that the defendants admitted they were at fault, and the issue before the jury was the amount of damages to award the injured victim.  The procedural issues in this case reflect the importance of medical records and documentation in a motor vehicle injury lawsuit. Here, the judge ultimately found that the medical evidence did not support the plaintiff’s allegations of harm, and the jury’s excessive verdict was not grounded in the evidence. The result was a serious (nearly 90%) reduction of the plaintiff’s original award.

Following a car accident in July 2004, the plaintiff victim brought a lawsuit alleging negligence against the driver of a pickup truck and his employer. The facts indicated that the defendant driver had rear-ended the victim’s car and then struck her passenger door. The victim underwent medical care and then, two years after the initial car accident, was again-rear ended. In the ensuing lawsuit, the defendants conceded liability, and the matter was tried on the issue of damages.


After a jury returned a verdict of $600,000 for the plaintiff, the defendants moved for a new trial, or remittitur. A remittitur is a judge’s ruling that lowers the amount of damages granted by a jury in a civil case, often due to an excessive award. The plaintiff did not accept a remittitur to $70,000, and the judge allowed the new trial motion.

The judge wrote a memo of decision and order regarding the granting of the new trial motion, stating that the plaintiff’s medical records contained notes that attributed the plaintiff’s complaints to the accident. However, the judge noted that these were self-reported complaints and that while treating physicians opined that the symptoms were caused by the 2004 accident, they were not based on medical evidence.

The new trial resulted in a jury verdict of $110,000 for the plaintiff. The judge, in his memo of decision on the new trial motion, stated that the medical records that stated the plaintiff’s ongoing medical symptoms were causally related to the 2004 car accident had not been based on evidence. In fact, the judge noted that the plaintiff had not informed her health care provider, a neurologist, of the 2006 accident at all.

In this lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the judge mistakenly allowed the motion for a new trial and erred in remitting the jury’s verdict from $600,000 to $70,000. She claimed that the order was based on errors of law and fact, and the judge drew inferences in the defendant’s favor impermissibly.

The court here stated that the remittitur, which was a nearly 90 percent reduction of the award, appeared extreme. However, the court stated that the reduced award remained significantly higher than the total damages that were claimed for the period between July and October 2004. That was the period in which the judge held the plaintiff had incurred relevant medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional harm from the July 15, 2004 accident.

The court here stated that the judge had found the medical treatment and diagnoses from 2005 to 2010 had been based on the plaintiff’s subjective reports of pain from the 2004 collision. Here, the court stated that the jury’s excessive verdict had not been supported by the evidence and had in fact been “likely swayed” by the plaintiff’s testimony concerning her injury and her attribution of the injury to the 2004 accident.

The court here also held there was no error or abuse of discretion in the judge’s allowance of a motion for a new trial regarding damages. Since the plaintiff had not accepted the remittitur, the judge allowed a motion for a new trial, based on an excessive award of damages.

Following a motor vehicle crash, a skilled Boston car accident attorney can help you assert your legal right to compensation from a careless or at-fault party. At the Law Office of Michael O. Smith, we represent accident victims in personal injury claims for damages. Contact our office for a free consultation by calling (617) 263-0060.

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