Florida Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court’s Increase of Pain & Suffering Damages in Car Accident Lawsuit

In Ortega v. Belony, the plaintiff incurred a broken neck after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. After the collision, he was admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for eight days. After being discharged from the hospital, the plaintiff wore a medical device called a halo for roughly 90 days. Although his treating medical professionals recommended that the man undergo surgery to his neck, he refused.

After leaving the hospital, the man continued his recuperation, which involved moving in with a relative who provided him with daily care and support. The man indicated that he was experiencing trouble sleeping, which led him back to the hospital so that the treating physicians could adjust his halo device. The device was later removed, but the man reported experiencing back pain and discomfort in his neck. After examining the plaintiff, the doctors did not make a recommendation for additional treatment.

The man next brought a negligence claim against the other motorist involved in the crash. He also sought treatment from an orthopedic surgeon. This physician recommended a surgical procedure to address the plaintiff’s continued neck-related injuries, but the plaintiff opted instead to undergo three injections. After receiving the final injection, he indicated that he was not experiencing any trouble engaging in everyday activities. He also said that he did not intend to seek additional medical treatment for his neck.

After trial, the jury returned a verdict stating that the plaintiff was 70 percent at fault for the injuries he sustained in the accident. The jury awarded the plaintiff approximately $33,000 in damages for his medical bills, but it did not provide a damages award to compensate him for past and future pain and suffering. In reviewing the jury’s verdict, the lower court concluded that the evidence did not support the verdict and ordered the jurors to reexamine their initial verdict. Afterward, the jury provided $5,000 in pain and suffering damages to the plaintiff.

The trial court concluded that a $5,000 pain and suffering award did not support the injuries that the plaintiff had presented at trial, mainly a broken neck. The plaintiff filed a motion seeking an additur, which is a motion that asks the judge to increase the jury’s award of damages. The trial court granted the motion, increasing the jury’s pain and suffering damages award to $245,000. The defendant appealed.

The appellate court first stated that the determination of whether a plaintiff should receive pain and suffering damages and, if so, in what amount is commonly the province of the jury. Without evidence providing otherwise, a court must allow a jury’s verdict providing or omitting pain and suffering damages to stand. The appellate court framed the test as whether a jury of reasonable men and women could have returned the verdict in question. Reviewing the evidence in the record, the appellate court concluded that the lower court improperly granted the plaintiff’s motion for an additur, and it reinstated the jury’s original pain and suffering award of $5,000.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, we have provided compassionate and skilled legal counsel to accident victims throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

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