Can a Jury Award Zero in Noneconomic Damages?

In Carr v. Cinnamon, a California appellate court applied the same rule we have here in Maryland: the finder of fact can award whatever they want for noneconomic damages, including zero even when it seems preposterous that a person could suffer medical bills and have no pain and suffering.

Plaintiff’s premises liability lawsuit alleged that her leg fell through the floor of a patio on the defendant’s property. The jury found the defendant partially responsible and awarded a whopping $6,207.08 with no damages for pain and suffering. Improbably, the Plaintiff’s attorney appealed, arguing that the damages award was inadequate as a matter of law and the trial court should have awarded damages (additur) or awarded a new trial.

The appellate court disagreed, finding juries can essentially do whatever they want. One thing is for sure: this jury was not a big fan of this plaintiff.

You can find the opinion here.

The Argument for Additur

zero non-economic damages

Additur claims = Better justice in Maryland

Remittitur allows Maryland judges to either reduce the verdict or award a new trial when the trial judge believes the verdict was excessive based on the evidence.   The courts give the plaintiff an option in these cases.  Take the lesser verdict or take a new trial.  We have faced this choice before and it is a tough call in many cases.

Similarly, the doctrine of additur comes into play if the damage award is inadequate. Under this doctrine, if the trial court determines the verdict is inadequate, it can grant a complete or partial new trial.

Judges reduce jury verdicts when they believe the verdict is unreasonable based on the facts of the case.  Why can’t they increase the value as well?  What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  In Fileccia v. Nationwide, the Appellate Court of Connecticut stated that:

In finding that the plaintiff, by virtue of the accident, had suffered an injury requiring treatments and medication, the purpose of which was to alleviate pain and to improve functioning, the jury necessarily found that he had experienced pain and decreased functioning. Accordingly, it should have awarded noneconomic damages to compensate him for that pain and decreased functioning. Moreover, insofar as there was no evidence suggesting that the plaintiff had any preexisting conditions, the jury could not have reasonably attributed these problems to a cause other than the accident.

This should be the law in Maryland as well.

Maryland Law

There has not been any prior Maryland reported decision which overturned the trial court’s upholding of a zero pain and suffering award.  Nor have I ever heard of Maryland case where a court granted an additur motion.

There is even a question as to whether a Maryland court has the power to grant an additur motion.  See Free State Bank & Trust Co. v. Ellis,  411 A.2d 1090, 1094 (1980) (noting that Maryland does not permit additur).  As a practical matter, I don’t think an award of zero in economic damages is going to overturned in Maryland until a Maryland appellate court blesses the idea.