In Glasgow v. K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., No. E2015-01653-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury award in the full amount of compensatory damages sought by a Tennessee premises liability plaintiff.
While using the restroom in a grocery store, plaintiff lost his balance while standing up. He grabbed the handrail, which pulled out of the wall, causing him to fall and hit his head. Plaintiff presented testimony from himself and a doctor who had treated him both before and after the incident, as well as a deposition from the neurologist he saw after the fall. Plaintiff presented evidence that since the fall, he had experienced migraines and light sensitivity. He testified that this affected his life in several ways. He had to abandon his 14-year career in television production and instead go into radio because of his light sensitivity. Plaintiff asserted that the migraines were “debilitating, requiring him to ‘get out of the light’ and stay in a dark, cool space until the pain subsides.” Plaintiff admitted at trial that he was “not actively seeking treatment from a physician for his migraines and that he currently use[d] over-the-counter medication to treat his condition.”
At trial, the parties stipulated that plaintiff’s medical expenses were $5,310 and that he had a life expectancy of 38.36 years.
In his complaint, plaintiff sought $250,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, though plaintiff withdrew his claim for punitives after the close of proof. The jury returned a verdict of $350,000, which the trial court reduced to $250,000 in accordance with the request in the complaint. Defendant filed a motion for remittitur, which the trial court denied, and this appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant was not contesting liability but was asserting that the award should be reduced to $100,000. Defendant argued that the award was “excessive and beyond the range of reasonableness given the ‘minimal impact plaintiff’s injuries have had on his occupational and recreational life’ and the fact that ‘he has no restrictions as a result of the injury.’”
According to Tennessee law of compensatory damages, “the amount of damages to be awarded is primarily for the jury to determine. …[W]hen the trial judge has approved a verdict, as in this case, our review is subject to the rule that if there is any material evidence to support the jury’s award, it should not be disturbed.” (internal citations omitted). Here, the Court noted that plaintiff had to change “his course of study” and career path, and he continued to suffer from arguably debilitating migraines. Further, the Court pointed out that the cases defendant used to support reduction of the award were distinguishable because, in those cases, the trial court found a remittitur appropriate, whereas here the trial court approved the award in the full amount requested by the complaint. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals determined that there was material evidence to support the verdict and the jury award of $250,000 was affirmed.
The Court of Appeals correctly affirmed this verdict, as the jury and the trial court were the ones who heard the evidence regarding how life-altering plaintiff’s injuries actually were. Plaintiff’s attorney here clearly did a good job of illustrating that, despite relatively low medical bills, plaintiff had suffered extensively from his fall and would continue to feel the affects of it throughout his life.