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When Can a Trial Court Modify the Size of a Jury's Award Under NY Law?

In a case from one of New York's Federal Courts that was reported in today's edition of the New York Law Journal, a plaintiff was awarded over $4 million for his personal injuries following a fall from a roof. Apparently, the jury believed his contention that the police had pushed him off the roof, and thereby caused his personal injuries.

The important aspect of this case, though, lies in what happened after the trial.

Since the plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic as a result of his accident, he moved to set aside the jury's verdict on the grounds that the award was inadequate, which in legal terms is called "additur." (The flip side of this coin, where a defendant seeks to reduce an excessive jury award, is called "remittitur").

At this point, it bears mention that as a general rule, New York courts are required to give great deference to a jury's verdict. Before denying the plaintiff's application, the Court articulated the guidelines it used to evaluate plaintiff's application as follows:

 "Under New York law, courts are empowered to review the size of jury verdicts and to order new trials when the jury's award 'deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation.' N.Y.C.P.L.R. §5501(c) (McKinney 2009). To determine whether a jury award deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation, New York courts compare the award in question to verdicts approved in similar cases. See Gasperini, 518 U.S. at 425; Consorti, 72 F.3d at 1013. However, such awards are not binding on the Court, but are merely instructive. See Pahuta v. Massey-Ferguson, 997 F. Supp. 379, 384 (W.D.N.Y. 1998)."

In this case, the Court analyzed cases with similar injuries and facts, and concluded that the award here was, although in the lower range of awards for these injuries, still did not deviate materially from "reasonable compensation."