A jury verdict in favor of the victim is often not the “last word” in a personal injury case. Aside from any appeal the defense might bring, the trial judge can also issue what is known as a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict” (j.n.o.v.) This basically means the judge finds that, based on the evidence presented during the trial, there can only be “one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment.” Put another way, j.n.o.v. is only appropriate when it is not a “close case” and the evidence–including any reasonable inferences someone could make from such evidence–inevitably leads to a conclusion that differed from that of the jury.
Gary v. Brown
A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Gary v. Brown, illustrates the type of case in which a court may grant a j.n.o.v. This personal injury lawsuit involved a 2014 auto accident. The defendant rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff did not initially seek medical treatment following the collision.
Later that same day, however, the plaintiff went to the hospital complaining of back pain. An emergency physician ran tests, prescribed medication, and told the plaintiff to see his regular doctor. The plaintiff’s doctor subsequently referred him to an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed the plaintiff with a herniated disc.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant, seeking among other things damages for his expected “future medical expenses.” The defense moved before trial to strike this request, arguing that any future medical bills the plaintiff might incur were “too speculative” at this point. The judge denied the motion, however, and allowed the plaintiff to present evidence on this issue.
The jury ultimately returned a verdict for the plaintiff, which included $100,000 in damages for future medical expenses. At this point, the trial judge decided there was insufficient evidence to support this award and issued a j.n.o.v. for the defendant.
The Court of Appeals similarly concluded the plaintiff failed to present more than “speculation” regarding his future medical expenses. The main issue here involved the testimony of the plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon. The award of future medical expenses was premised on the plaintiff’s belief that he would require back surgery for his herniated disk.
But as the appellate court explained, the surgeon had only “discussed the possibility of surgery” with the plaintiff; he did not say it was necessary at the time of his last appointment. Indeed, the surgeon testified that “further treatment” would likely be necessary before pursuing a surgical option.
Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals said the trial judge acted appropriately in issuing a j.n.o.v. While juries in Georgia can make “prospective” awards for medical expenses, such awards must still be based on “competent evidence.” Here, the Court said all the plaintiff had was “mere speculation and conjecture” that he might incur expenses related to potential back surgery in the future.
It should be noted the jury also awarded the plaintiff $25,000 in general damages unrelated to the issue of future medical expenses. This award was not affected by the trial court’s j.n.o.v. of the decision of the Court of Appeals.