This blog post by personal injury attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, a Gwinnett County personal injury and wrongful death practice available to handle cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State Georgia, answers the question of whether a trial judge in Georgia has the authority to reduce the amount of a plaintiff's jury verdict at the conclusion of a lawsuit. The answer, though it typically rarely happens, is yes. Georgia judges also have the authority under the same statute, though it is even rarer, to add to the amount of damages awarded in a personal injury verdict.
What is the legal authority in Georgia law for a judge to add to or reduce the amount of damages awarded in a jury verdict?
The statutory authority is found at O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12 which states:
"(a) The question of damages is ordinarily one for the jury; and the court should not interfere with the jury's verdict unless the damages awarded by the jury are clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence in the case.
(b) If the jury's award of damages is clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to any party as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence, the trial court may order a new trial as to damages only, as to any or all parties, or may condition the grant of such a new trial upon any party's refusal to accept an amount determined by the trial court.
(c) Only one grant of a new trial by the judge may be based upon the powers conferred by this Code section. The first grant of a new trial other than one ordered under this Code section and which order granting the new trial is not based on this Code section shall remain governed by Code Section 5-5-50."
As you can see, Georgia judges have the legal authority to add or subtract from the amount of damages awarded in a jury's verdict. The common law term for adding to a verdict is called "additur" and for subtracting from a verdict it is called "remittitur" (note: remittitur also has a second meaning in the practice of law, that being when a higher court such as an appellate court "remands" or sends a case back to a lower court). However, this ruling is not final as you will see below.
When can a Georgia judge reduce or increase the amount of a personal injury lawsuit verdict?
As stated in O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(a), damages are ordinarily reserved for a jury to determine, and they should only be altered when they are "clearly so inadequate or so excessive as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence." Again, this happens rarely, and from observation, it is much rarer for a judge to add to a verdict than to subtract from a verdict.
What happens if a judge reduces a Georgia personal injury lawsuit verdict?
As stated in O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(b), the judge may order a new trial as to damages only (wherein proving liability for a tort would not be at issue), or the judge can order a new trial on damages only and condition the new trial on either the plaintiff, defendant, or both refusing to accept the judge's ruling reducing (or adding to) the amount of damages. In other words, the judge's decision to add to or subtract from a verdict does not have to be final as the statute contemplates a trial on damages only in such an event. In the rare event when a judge subtracts from a verdict, the issue for a Georgia personal injury plaintiff is whether the amount awarded is appropriate. Ask any attorney who has tried numerous cases and you will learn no two juries are exactly alike. There is always the possibility a second jury could award even less than the judge had reduced the first verdict (as well as the possibility of a higher verdict).
If you or a loved one have suffered a personal injury in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation.
Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.