Torts II, Pages 542–546

Anderson v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, May 6, 1974
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This was generated automatically because of the following tags: child death, serious child injury

Facts:

Plaintiff's home was consumed by a fire started by a defective heater that defendant installed. Both plaintiff and her infant daughter were severely burned. Her daughter suffered multiple permanent injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for negligence.

Procedural History:

The jury awarded $2,000,000 in compensatory damages for plaintiff's daughter's injuries. Defendants moved for a new trial or alternatively remittitur.

Note:

Remittitur is a court process to reduce the verdict handed down by a jury.

Issue:

Was $2,000,000 too much for the jury to award for plaintiff's infant daughter sustaining severe burns?

Defendant's Arguments:

  • $2,000,000 in damages was excessive.

  • The jury returned a larger verdict than plaintiff prayed for in her pleading.

  • The photos of the burned child were inflammatory.

  • Taking the child into the courtroom and its corridors inflamed or prejudiced the jury.

Rule:

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The legal standard on which to gauge a jury verdict for remittitur purposes is the "maximum recovery rule," . . . This rule directs the trial judge to determine whether the verdict of the jury exceeds the maximum amount which the jury could reasonably find and if it does, the trial judge may then reduce the verdict to the highest amount that the jury could properly have awarded.

Reasoning:

  • In this case there are five cardinal elements of damages:

    1. Past physical and mental pain
      • The infant almost burned to death with her home. She suffered severe burns over 40% of her body, including third degrees over 80% of her scalp.
      • She was hospitalized for 28 days, during which she required numerous blood transfusions; suffered pneumonia, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and infection; and underwent skin graft surgery to her scalp, which was only partially successful.
      • Keloid scarring caused her fingers to become adhered together, impaired walking, and locked her elbow at a burdensome, fixed position.
      • A second surgery was required to graft skin from her stomach to the remaining bare areas of her scalp, and a third and fourth were undertaken to attempt to relieve the deformity of her scarred hands.
      • In addition, this tragedy occurred at a crucial point in the child's development and has severely traumatized her and left her emotionally ill and somewhat retarded.
      • Based off this damage, an award of $600,000 for this alone would not be unreasonable.
    2. Future physical and mental pain
      • The child's continued growth will continue to cause severe pain and a crippling limitation of motion across all of her extremities as the growth stretching and tears the scars.
      • Her scalp will never be able to breathe, sweat, or grow hair.
      • She has 27 future operations recommended throughout her life, each with their own risks and trauma. This is assuming she stays in good enough condition to undergo them as she will be vulnerable to irritation, infection, and cancer in the scarred areas.
      • The trauma will severely tax and stress her as she deals with the struggles of living with major deformities and the social struggles that accompany that.
      • In conclusion, an award of $750,000 for this alone would not be excessive.
    3. Future medical expenses
      • She will have to pay for plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, sociologists throughout her life, in addition to the costs of the 27 recommended surgeries and the private tutoring necessitated by her mental and emotional needs.
      • These costs could justify an award of $250,000.
    4. Loss of earning capacity
      • Her disabilities would prevent her from earning a living for the rest of her life.
      • Actuarial figures accurately calculated to be valued as much as $330,000.
    5. Permanent disability and disfigurement:
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    The award for this element of damage must evaluate in monetary terms the compensation due this plaintiff for the permanent physical, mental and emotional disabilities and disfigurements proved by the evidence adduced at trial. A narration treating Miss Britain's permanent disabilities and disfigurements would be lengthy and redundant; therefore, I resort to listing.
    1. The complete permanent loss of 80% of the scalp caused by the destruction of sweat glands, hair follicles and tissue -- all of which effects a grotesque disfigurement and freakish appearance.
    2. The permanent loss of the normal use of the legs.
    3. The permanent impairment of the left fingers and hand caused by recurring webbing and resulting in limited motion.
    4. The permanent impairment of the right hand caused by scars and webbing of the fingers.
    5. The permanent injury to the left elbow and left arm with ankylosis and resulting in a crippling deformity.
    6. The permanent destruction of 40% of the normal skin. As a result of this a large portion of the body is covered by "pigskin." Pigskin resembles the dry, cracked skin of an aged person and is highly susceptible to irritation from such ordinary things as temperature changes and washing.
    7. Permanent scars over the majority of the body where skin donor sites were removed,
    8. The permanent impairment of speech.
    9. The loss of three years of formative and impressionable childhood.
    10. Permanently reduced and impaired emotional capacity.
    11. The permanent impairment of normal social, recreational and educational life.
    12. The permanent imprint of her mother's hand on her stomach.
    Considering each of the foregoing items, the court concludes that the jury had the prerogative of awarding up to $1,100,00 for this element of damages.

  • Adding these figures together gives a maximum of $2,980,000, which $2,000,000 is within the bound of.

  • Plaintiff amended her pleaded after the verdict was returned as allowed by the court and the law.

  • Since a part of the damages is for disfigurement, humiliation, and embarrassment, the photographs were properly admitted to show the condition of plaintiff's daughter.

  • Plaintiff's daughter was well-behaved the whole time she was in the courtroom.

Holding:

The damages awarded were not excessive. Defendants' motions for a remittitur are denied.