Court of Appeals evaluates jury verdict for attendant care and services
Shannon Beauchamp sued her son's auto insurer, State Farm, arguing that it owed her for thousands of dollars of attendant care provided to Roger, the son, after he was hurt in a car accident. Her attorneys submitted a verdict form that failed to completely explain the jury's findings, and when the verdict was rendered, it appeared to be inconsistent. The numbers on the form only made sense if the reader made assumptions about what the jury intended, in terms of the total amount payable to the family.
The Court first concluded that additur was not appropriate because it wasn't entirely clear that the jury intended to award a full $17.00 per hour for 24 hours per day. Since there were logical means by which the jury could have arrived at the $33,000.00 verdict, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in refusing to award a new trial or increased damages.
The Court also rejected the Plaintiff's argument that the insurer owed fees for the entirety of the trial. Since fees are only paid when a court finds that the insurer has unreasonably delayed payment, and since there was a reasonable dispute over the amount of attendant care owed, the Court could not automatically award the full fees requested. The high court did remand the case for the lower court to compute the amount of fees owed for non-payment of an overdue third-party medical billing of $1040.00.
Lastly, the Court rejected the trial judge's attempt to harmonize the jury verdict by assuming that the jury intended to pay night-time attendant care at a fifty-percent rate. It noted that the trial judge does not enjoy the right to "effectively alter the jury verdict on its own initiative" and that no expenses are owed until after they have been "incurred" by the injury victim.