A recent decision by the Louisiana Third Circuit in Langlinais et al. v. Leblanc et al. 2018-712 (La. App. 3 Cir. 04/17/2019) demonstrates that convincing a jury about injury causation, pre-existing conditions, and Plaintiff credibility issues is not the only consideration when preparing for trial. Courts can, and will, alter jury awards (or lack thereof) based on evidence and current injury-valuation standards.
Langlinais v. Leblanc Background
In Langlinais v. Leblanc, Plaintiffs were travelling in a truck in Lake Charles, Louisiana, when they were struck from the rear at a red light by a van owned by the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Plaintiffs sued the driver, the parish police jury, and its insurer. Both Plaintiffs alleged neck and back injuries, while Plaintiff passenger also alleged facial injury. At trial, the chief point of contention was the extent of damages, as both Plaintiffs had pre-existing neck injuries, and both were in pain management at the time the accident occurred. The appellate court noted that defendants established that Plaintiffs both had “serious credibility issues.”
Plaintiff driver was a 48-year-old industrial worker who operated heavy equipment—including jack hammers and cranes. Pre-accident MRIs noted degenerative changes and disc pathology. Plaintiff’s treatment history included injections and back surgery. Plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon testified that his recommended neck surgery would have been needed prior to the accident. Defendants pointed out Plaintiff’s lying on employment applications regarding his prior neck injury and his lying under oath at depositions, as well as his concealment of the extent of his prior neck injuries from his medical providers and vocational rehabilitation expert.
Plaintiff passenger had several criminal convictions that injured her credibility. She also had a pre-accident cervical fusion and degeneration, causing her pain. One of her physicians noted that it was possible her post-accident MRI scans demonstrated conditions which her neck could have naturally reached without the intervening accident. Plaintiff did undergo a cervical fusion, and her surgeon testified that she would need another surgery to alleviate remaining symptoms. An independent medical examiner of defendants did not agree with the recommendations of Plaintiff’s physicians.
The Jury Verdict and Award
The jury rendered a verdict awarding Plaintiff driver $125,000 in medical expenses, $100,000 in loss of earning capacity, and $5,000 in past pain and suffering. The jury did not award Plaintiff passenger any damages. Both Plaintiffs filed motions for judgments notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), which were granted by the trial court. Plaintiff driver’s awards were increased to $2,376,462 by the trial court. Plaintiff passenger was awarded a total of $506,855.74 in general and special damages.
Appellate Court’s Findings
The appellate court noted Louisiana’s standard for granting judgments notwithstanding the verdict: the evidence must point so strongly in favor of the movant that a reasonable person could not reach different conclusions. On the other hand, the motion should be denied when the opposing evidence is of such a quality and weight that a reasonable and fair-minded person exercising impartial judgment might reach a different conclusion. The court also noted that the judge should not evaluate credibility of witnesses, and all reasonable inferences or factual questions should be resolved in favor of the non-moving party—in this case, the defendants.
Under review, and with the Plaintiff driver’s credibility issues in mind, the appellate court reversed the granting of the JNOV as to his medical expenses, finding that a jury could have inferred that the driver was not allowed to recover expenses related to his neck. However, the appellate court found the jury’s sole award of $5,000 for driver’s general damages and a lack of future medical expenses were inconsistent with the jury’s finding that Plaintiff driver’s back was injured. The increased amounts for past and future general damages were reduced to $100,000 and $350,000, respectively, based on a review of rather recent cases involving neck and back fusions.
The appellate court found no error in the award of Plaintiff passenger’s past and future medical expenses under the JNOV, as they were documented in the record and another surgery was recommended. The award of past general damages was reduced from $115,000 to $75,000, and future general damages were reduced from $170,000 to $120,000. Even as reduced, this award was made when a jury clearly decided Plaintiff passenger was entitled to nothing.
Langlinais v. Leblanc Demonstrates Jury’s Verdict is not Final
In the end, this case demonstrates that a jury’s verdict is not final, even when inexact considerations of pre-existing conditions, causation, and credibility issues are at play. These plaintiffs had substantial increased awards from the trial court, the jury’s verdict notwithstanding. Furthermore, although the trial judge’s awards were reduced, the Plaintiffs both faired much better under the appellate court’s awards than they did under the jury’s verdict. Historical jury and appellate awards should be considered just as much as facts in evaluating injury claims. As of this writing, this decision is not yet final, and the time frame to seek review by the Louisiana Supreme Court has not run.