Court upholds verdict for medical expenses onlyJohn McMillan sued his landlord after he injured his shoulder while descending the basement stairs of his rented home. The handrail allegedly gave way, causing McMillan to fall and injure his shoulder. At trial, the jury awarded McMillan his medical expenses of approximately $4,000.00 but awarded him nothing for lost wages or pain and suffering. McMillan appealed arguing that it was inconsistent and against the great weight of the evidence for the jury to award no damages beyond the medical expenses. His attorneys also argued that the verdict reflected an anti-judicial or anti-plaintiff bias because post-verdict discussions with the all-white jury suggested the jurors were motivated by a distaste for the entire procedure, including the all-black cast of parties and witnesses.
The Court of Appeals rejected McMillan's appeal. The three judge panel wrote three separate opinions, however, they essentially agreed on the basic law to be applied. They noted that a plaintiff bears the burden of proving each element of damages and a jury is free to reject any aspect of a plaintiff's claim. In this hotly contested claim, the jury's decision is entitled to substantial deference and the jurors could legitimately have concluded that McMillan's testimony about pain and work loss were not credible. The judges noted that there was ample evidence to support the argument that McMillan had suffered no lost wages as a result of his shoulder injury and that the injury may have pre-dated the fall.
Frankly, the outcome is also demonstrative of the higher courts' understandable--and appropriate--reluctance to over-turn a jury verdict that may well represent a compromise of liability and damage issues. Out of respect for the Constitutional basis of the right to trial by jury, good appellate judges are very reluctant to second-guess a jury's outcome. In this case, although the racial composition of the jury may have suggested some racial bias, apparently the Plaintiff's attorneys did not argue a specific claim of racial bias and could not point to any evidence or misbehavior tending to foment or encourage a racially-charged outcome.