Auto Accident Case
New Jersey Appeals Court Upholds Jury Award in Car Crash
In the recent case of Bonner v. Szelc, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a jury verdict of nearly $250,000 for a car crash that left the plaintiff with permanent injuries and chronic pain. The defendant argued on appeal that the judge made several errors at trial, but the appeals court did not find any merit in these claims.
This case arose out of a car accident that occurred in 2007. Before trial, the parties agreed that the defendant was 80% liable for the accident and that the plaintiff was 20% liable. The questions left for trial, then, focused on whether the plaintiff sustained a permanent injury in the accident and if so, what the proper amount of damages should be (New Jersey law may limit the ability to recover compensation for pain and suffering unless a permanent injury has been proven).
The plaintiff's experts at trial testified that the accident caused bulging discs, herniated discs, nerve damage, and a tear of the meniscus in his knee. The doctor testified that these damages were all permanent. While the plaintiff did have a history of prior back problems, the expert testified these problems were likely worsened and permanently aggravated by the accident. The plaintiff testified to daily pain and limitations on his ability to move, work and enjoy life.
The defendant's experts said that none of the plaintiff's complaints were caused by the accident. They admitted to some aggravation to pre-existing conditions, but nothing permanent. According to these doctors, the plaintiff's back problems are degenerative and not related to the crash.
The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $235,000 in compensatory damages (pain and suffering, disability, impairment) plus $10,000 to the wife for loss of consortium. They also awarded $4,000 for lost wages. These amounts were reduced by 20% in accordance with the prior comparative negligence agreement.
The defendant filed a motion for a new trial or a remittitur, which means asking the judge to lower the amount of the jury verdict. These motions were denied.
The appellate judge found that the trial court had not committed any errors or abused its discretion in a way that would require the appeals court to order a new trial. The court also held that the jury award was based on the consideration of appropriate criteria, and there was no reason to disturb it. The defendant had asserted that the jury award was "excessive" and "shocked the conscience," but the defendant did not back up these assertions with any evidence. The plaintiff, meanwhile, had introduced evidence of permanent medical conditions, chronic pain, and significant impairment to his ability to enjoy life.