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Jeffrey P. Arnold, et al. v. Security National Ins. Co., Case No. 4D13-0061 (4th DCA)

In Arnold, the plaintiffs appealed a trial court order reducing the jury awards for past and future pain and suffering against Security National by nearly $1 million. The plaintiffs filed suit against their uninsured motorist carrier following an automobile accident. At trial, the plaintiffs produced medical expert testimony to support claims for past and future medical expenses. On cross examination, one of the plaintiffs’ experts acknowledged that whether certain surgeries would be needed was simply unknown. The jury returned a verdict of nearly $1.5 million, which included future medical expenses including the expenses for all potential surgeries, and past and future pain and suffering. The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for remittitur, and reduced the future medical expenses, as well as the past and future pain and suffering. The plaintiffs appealed the order to the extent it reduced past and future pain and suffering.

The Fourth District began by providing background as to the laws governing remittitur. The question of damages is one lodged in the sound discretion of the jury within reasonable bounds. The trial court may review their discretion but not the amount awarded unless shown to be clearly arbitrary. The court noted that in granting a remittitur or an additur, there is always the concern that the trial court is usurping the function of the jury. “Nonetheless, the law is clear that the trial judge does not sit as a seventh juror with veto power.” The general rule is that should a remittitur be granted, the amount of the excess must clearly appear from the record. “The court should never declare a verdict excessive merely because it is above the amount which the court itself considers the jury should have allowed. The verdict should not be disturbed unless it is so inordinately large as obviously to exceed the maximum limit of a reasonable range within which the jury may properly operate.” The Fourth District further noted that Fla. Stat. 768.74 sets forth the factors for a court to consider when determining whether to grant a remittitur. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530(f) imposes an additional requirement that an order granting remittitur must provide an explanation founded in the record for the reduction of the jury award. If the order simply tracks the language of Fla. Stat. 768.74 and does not explain what in the record supports its conclusion for the need and the amount of remittitur, it is deficient.

Here, the Fourth District found that the trial court failed to explain what in the record demonstrated the need for remittitur regarding the awards of pain and suffering and the reason for the amounts chosen. Accordingly, the Fourth District ruled that it was unable to determine whether the trial court’s reduction was in accord with the law. The case was therefore remanded for entry of an order which contains the necessary findings and conclusions to support the remittitur.

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