Judge who reduced $1.5 million jury verdict by 70% acted reasonably, appeals court says | Courts

A Jefferson County judge was correct to slash a jury award of $1.5 million to a car crash victim by 70%, the state’s second-highest court has heard. last week.

Catherine Pisano, who underwent multiple medical procedures and experienced lingering pain after being rammed on Interstate 70 in 2014, asked the Court of Appeals to find that District Court Judge Tamara Russell wrongly decided how much money state law allowed Pisano to receive. Russell reduced the $1,548,000 a jury had awarded Pisano for his suffering, emotional stress, and impaired quality of life to $468,010.

The judge had the option of awarding Pisano double that amount, $936,030, but she felt that Pisano’s injuries were not “exceptional” enough to warrant the higher figure.

A three-member state Court of Appeals panel ruled that Russell acted within his authority in choosing the lower dollar figure.

“Given the contradictory nature of the evidence presented at trial, we are unable to question the trial court’s assessment of the circumstances of the Pisano case,” Judge Elizabeth L. Harris wrote in the opinion of February 17.

Pisano’s appeal raised the question of how trial court judges are supposed to assess the appropriate level of damages a plaintiff should receive when the jury offers a figure above the upper limit under US law. ‘State. For non-economic damages — the $1.5 million for pain and suffering in Pisano’s case — lawmakers set the maximum amount at $468,010, adjusted for inflation at the time of Pisano’s trial. A judge could separately authorize damages of up to $936,030, but only if there was “justification by clear and convincing evidence”.

Russell, in defending his decision to stick with the legal cap, noted that Pisano’s afflictions were not as debilitating as those in other personal injury cases. Therefore, she was “unconvinced by clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff’s injuries rose to the level of exceptional circumstances warranting exceeding the statutory ceiling”.

Pisano argued that the law did not mention “exceptional circumstances” and Russell simply had to decide whether the evidence heard by the jury clearly and convincingly justified the higher amount. The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association submitted a brief to the appeals court in support of Pisano, arguing that Russell had undermined the jury by concluding on her own whether Pisano’s injuries were serious enough.

The panel of the Court of Appeal criticized this interpretation during the pleadings.

“In the absence of any sort of standard (enshrined in statute), doesn’t that suggest that the trial court can exercise its discretion?” Harris asked.

But the judges were also skeptical of defendant Leann Manning’s interpretation of when the judges should exceed the $468,010 cap.

“The judge, when determining whether the cap should apply, is dealing with public order and is rather answering the question of whether to allow this person who has X damages to have that much (money), whether it would be a miscarriage of justice,” said Evan Stephenson, Manning’s attorney.

Judge Lino S. Lipinsky of Orlov noted that the term “miscarriage of justice” also does not appear in the law.

“Are you arguing that trial courts have absolute discretion?” He asked.

Ultimately, the panel agreed that Russell was within its authority to determine whether Pisano’s injuries constituted “exceptional circumstances” to exceed the cap. Trial courts, Harris wrote, may consider “all relevant factors”. She added that any award over $468,010 is necessarily an “exception” to the normal limit.

In addition to concluding that the judges do not have to tie their decisions to the work of the jury, the panel decided that Pisano’s injuries did not necessarily fit the description of exceptional circumstances. Although the jury heard testimony that there was “no more happiness” with Pisano and that lying in bed was the “one time” she was not in much pain, there was also evidence that Pisano was able to take care of herself and her family. , and that she continued to excel in her work.

The Colorado Civil Justice League, Colorado Defense Lawyers Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies had weighed in the Court of Appeals on Manning’s behalf. They noted that the state legislature imposed damage caps in the 1980s to help make insurance policies more affordable.

In addition to the $1.5 million for his pain and suffering, Pisano’s jury awarded him $634,767.11 in economic damages. She had also asked for more than $4 million for her physical disability, but jurors declined to provide anything in that category.

Since January 1, 2022, the ceiling for non-economic damage is now $642,180, which a judge can increase to a maximum of $1,284,370.

The deal is Pisano v. Manning.

About Jessica J. Bass

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