This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed March 28, 2000
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C3-98-2615
Arlo H. Vande Vegte, Arlo H. Vande Vegte, P.A., 1850 W. Wayzata Blvd., P.O. Box 39, Long Lake, MN† 55356; and
H. Rick Fritz, Rosedale Towers, Suite 107, 1700 W. Highway 36, Roseville, MN† 55113 (for appellant)
Theodore N. Treat, Treat Law Offices, P.A., Suite 144, 7101 York Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN† 55435; and
William N. Majerus, Majerus Law Office, Suite 500, 701 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN† 55415 (for respondent)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Appellant Constance Dorn brought this negligence action against Kenneth Batcheller, seeking to recover damages for personal injuries she allegedly received after her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Batcheller in 1995.
At trial, Dorn claimed that since the accident, she has suffered continuing and progressively worsening low back, neck, wrist, and jaw pain.† Although Dorn has missed only a few days of work and her medical problems have not yet required surgery, she presented videotaped depositions from three of her treating doctors, who testified to her continuing problems, her likely need for future surgeries, and the likelihood that her condition will worsen or develop into other problems such as arthritis.† During closing arguments, Dornís attorney reviewed the special verdict form and suggested various amounts for the items of damages listed, including a total of $67,750 for future medical expenses.
The jury found Batcheller solely negligent and awarded Dorn $9,000 for past medical expenses, $215,000 for future medical expenses, $6,000 for past pain and suffering, $16,000 for future pain and suffering, and nothing for loss of future earning capacity.† Batcheller moved for a new trial, claiming the verdict on future medical expenses was excessive and not justified by the evidence.† See Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01(e), (g).† The trial court denied the motion but amended the judgment by reducing the juryís award of future medical expenses from $215,000 to $77,000.† The court explained its decision to reduce the verdict as follows:
[Dornís chiropractor] testified that the maximum treatment would be 5-10 treatments per year at $100.00 per visit. †The life expectancy of the plaintiff would be 45 years, making for maximum treatment cost in the future to be $45,000.† [Dornís orthodontist] testified that an operation would cost a maximum of $14,000 and follow-up of another $3,000 for a total of $17,000.† [Dornís neurologist] testified that any carpal tunnel surgery would be $5,000 per hand for a total of $10,000, plus follow-up therapy for $5,000.† The maximum future medical expense therefore is $77,000.
Dorn appeals, arguing that sufficient evidence supported the juryís award and that the court erred in reducing the verdict without following the rules of remittitur requiring that she be given an option to consent to the reduction or to be offered a new trial.† Batcheller has filed a notice of review, seeking a new trial in the event that this court reverses the trial courtís remittitur.
Because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting remittitur, but that the court erred in making that remittitur unconditional, we remand to allow Dorn the opportunity to either consent to the reduction in her damage award or obtain a new trial on the issue of damages.
††††††††††† A trial courtís decisions regarding the adequacy of damages and the influence of passion and prejudice are entitled to the broadest possible discretion.† Lambertson v. Cincinnati Corp., 312 Minn. 114, 119, 257 N.W.2d 679, 684 (1977); Bisbee v. Ruppert, 306 Minn. 39, 49, 235 N.W.2d 364, 371 (1975).† The court may order remittitur to cure an error by a jury resulting in an award of excessive damages when that error has not affected the other issues in the case.† Genzel v. Halvorson, 248 Minn. 527, 529, 80 N.W.2d 854, 856 (1957).
††††††††††† It is relatively undisputed that this case was fairly tried, with few objections and stipulated jury instructions.† Even without direct evidence of misconduct on the part of the jury or other error at trial, passion and prejudice may be inferred from the size of a verdict.† See Krueger v. Knutson, 261 Minn. 144, 154, 111 N.W.2d 526, 533 (1961).
††††††††††† Neither party in this case has been able to adequately explain how the jury calculated the award of future medical expenses.† Dorn claims that the jury could have reached the $215,000 figure by making reasonable inferences based on evidence of the permanent and progressive nature of her injuries, her past treatment costs, the cost estimates of future treatment needs, and her life expectancy.† See Kwapien v. Starr, 400 N.W.2d 179, 184 (Minn. App. 1987) (jury may base award of future medical expenses on evidence of partyís life expectancy and cost of past medical treatment).† Granted, the trial court in this case just as easily could have concluded that past and future medical expenses are interdependent and intertwined and that the larger future medical expenses award was merely an adjustment for the smaller past medical expenses award.†
††††††††††† But a trial court is given great deference when granting remittitur because of its close involvement with the trial, particularly when, as here, the court examines the record and explains the basis for its remittitur.† See Sorenson v. Kruse, 293 N.W.2d 56, 62-63 (Minn. 1980); Kamrath v. Suburban Natíl Bank, 363 N.W.2d 108, 112 (Minn. App. 1985).† Thus, we cannot conclude that the trial court exceeded the bounds of its discretion by reducing the juryís $215,000 award of future medical expenses to $77,000.† See Hanson v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pac. R.R., 345 N.W.2d 736, 738 (Minn. 1984) (upholding remittitur, even though trial court failed to explain reasons, where record and arguments made to trial court supported remittitur); Thill v. Modern Erecting Co., 272 Minn. 217, 233, 136 N.W.2d 677, 688 (1965) (upholding trial courtís reduction of $642,400 verdict to $375,000 on remittitur).† Given the minimal amounts awarded by the jury on the other damage items and the $67,500 figure suggested by Dornís attorney during closing arguments, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the juryís $215,000 award for future medical expenses is excessive.
††††††††††† We therefore affirm that part of the trial courtís decision granting a remittitur, but reverse the courtís decision to make the remittitur unconditional.† Minnesota courts continue to require the consent of the party against whom an additur or remittitur is directed.† Runia v. Marguth Agency., Inc., 437 N.W.2d 45, 50 (Minn. 1989) (ďnew trial may be granted for excessive or inadequate damages and made conditional upon the party against whom the motion is directed consenting to a reduction or an increase of the verdictĒ).
††††††††††† Thus, we remand to allow Dorn an opportunity to consent or receive a new trial.† Because neither party has challenged the juryís findings on liability or causation, a new trial is only necessary on the issue of past and future damages.† See Pietrzak v. Eggen, 295 N.W.2d 504, 508 (Minn. 1980) (granting new trial on issues involving special and general future damages because they are so inextricably intertwined).
††††††††††† Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.