JACKSON, Miss. -- The personal injury case of a woman involved in a wreck with a laundry company's vehicle recently provided the Mississippi Supreme Court the perfect opportunity to polish its stance on additurs and remittiturs.
Justice George Carlson delivered the unanimous opinion Jan. 18 in the case of Marilyn and Eugene Dedeaux v. Pellerin Laundry, Inc.
"The... history will reveal that we have been less than consistent," Carlson wrote.
The case before the Court involved the Dedeauxes' complaint against Pellerin that they sustained damages as a result of a car accident. The trial court agreed but did not award Eugene for loss of consortium.
They moved for a new trial on the issue of damages or an additur. The court granted Marilyn an additur of $20,000 and Eugene an additur of $10,000. The numbers were then reduced to reflect Marilyn's percentage of fault.
Pellerin Laundry did not accept the additur in a timely manner, the Dedeauxes said, and they moved for a new trial again.
Carlson wrote that the Supreme Court has been unclear of the options surrounding additurs and remittiturs. In one case (Odom v. Parker), the Court found that both the plaintiffs and defendants are given the option of accepting the additur or remittitur, or having a new damages trial.
In another case (Odom v. Roberts), the Court returned to its pre-Parker position established in 1974's Alton v. Wood that only the plaintiffs (in the case of an additur) or the defendants (in the case of a remittitur) may decide to accept the awarded adjustment or have a new damages trial.
In the Roberts opinion, now-retired Justice Fred Banks dissented, claiming Parker's decision to require agreement from both parties was more appropriate.
"Upon reflection, this Court has come to the stark realization that the practical effect of our decision in Roberts is grossly unfair to plaintiffs and defendants. Consider this example: A plaintiff has a case reasonably valued at $50,000. The jury returns a verdict for $1,000. The trial judge grants an additur of $1,000," Carlson wrote.
"Thus, in applying Roberts to this factual scenario, only the defendant would have the option of rejecting the additur and electing to demand a new trial on damages; or appealing on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the additur, or, alternatively, that the additur was excessive; or, accepting the additur and paying the judgment.
"What rational, lucid defendant would not promptly pay the $2,000, and be done with the case, knowing that the defendant had been given a given a gift by the jury and the trial judge, and the plaintiff could do absolutely nothing about it?"
The Dedeauxes case, since both parties did not agree to the additurs, is remanded to Harrison County Circuit Court for a new damages trial.
"Hopefully, this newly established procedure will provide all parties with a level playing field in dealing with the issues of additurs and remittiturs," he wrote.