Court vacates part of $2.8M jury award between two truckers
August 7, 2019
A federal appeals court has reduced a multimillion dollar award to a trucker who won a case against another trucker for damages caused by a crash. The court ruled a lack of evidence for awards for future mental anguish and future pain.
On Aug. 1, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated part of the verdict award for trucker driver Ambrosio Longoria after a lower court ordered another truck driver, Singh Basatia, and the company he drove for, Ontario, Canada-based Hunter Express, to pay Longoria $2.8 million.
The appellate panel removed “the award for future mental anguish as there was no evidence to support any such award and vacate as excessive the award for future pain and suffering and remand that award for a remittitur determination,” according to the court opinion.
Crash between two truckers
In April 2015, Canadian trucker Basatia was in the left turn-only lane at the intersection of W. Loop 20 and FM 1472 in Laredo, Texas, in his 2010 Kenworth truck. At the same time, Longoria was in the next lane to the right in his 2007 Peterbilt, which was for left turns or to travel straight forward. As Longoria attempted to turn left, Basatia attempted to drive forward, despite being in the left turn-only lane. Consequently, Basatia’s truck collided with Longoria’s truck.
Longoria walked away from the incident but began experiencing back pain a few hours later, prompting him to visit the emergency room. He ended up undergoing physical therapy for severe pain for three months, during which he was unable to work.
According to medical records submitted to the court, Longoria was found to have herniated discs as a result of the crash. He had to undergo back surgery where doctors discovered a bone spur protruding from his spine. Another three-month rehabilitation session followed, and Longoria continues to experience pain.
$2.8 million award
Longoria filed a lawsuit against Basatia and Hunter Express in March 2016 alleging negligent entrustment, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent retention and negligent training.
Attorneys for Longoria sought recovery for past/future physical pain, past/future mental pain/anguish, past/future medical expenses, past/future lost wages, disfigurement, past/future physical impairment and property damage.
Basatia argued that he was not solely responsible for the crash. Court documents reveal that Basatia said he moved forward as he started a left turn when Longoria struck him. Basatia said he noticed a dog sitting in Longoria’s lap when the collision occurred.
The case eventually made its way to trial, where a jury verdict found Basatia and Hunter Express’ negligence the proximate cause of Longoria’s injuries and 100% responsible for the crash. The jury calculated damages of more than $2.8 million, including:
- $1.1 million for physical impairment in the future.
- $1 million for physical pain in the future.
- $200,000 for physical impairment in the past.
- $150,000 for physical pain in the past.
- $140,000 for mental anguish in the future.
- $120,000 for mental anguish in the past.
- $94,243 for medical expenses in the past.
- $15,000 for past lost wages.
- $1,000 for disfigurement in the past.
The jury award no money for disfigurement in the future. The judge signed off on the award in August 2017.
Future pain award deemed excessive
Subsequently, Basatia and Hunter Express filed an appeal, arguing that the judgment was excessive. More specifically, the two defendants claim there was no basis for the future mental anguish and future physical impairment awards. Furthermore, they argued that the future physical pain and past physical impairment awards were excessive.
To start, the appellate court found the $1 million award for future physical pain “too high” under Texas and federal rules. The court broke down Longoria’s future pain as follows:
- Perform an hour of stretching and warming up every morning.
- Most afternoons, the pain returns and stretching must be repeated.
- Takes ibuprofen about twice a week when stretching is insufficient.
- Severe pain wakes him up about four times per week.
- Some numbness and burning/tingling sensations.
- Permanent 50-pound lifting restriction.
“This pain is significant,” the court concluded. “But an award of $1 million is ‘contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence,’ given that Longoria can mostly manage the pain by stretching and taking over-the-counter medicine.”
Previous cases similar in nature awarded the plaintiff anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 for future pain. The highest award the court could fine in a similar case was $500,000.
Insufficient evidence of future mental anguish
Regarding future mental anguish, Longoria points to his fear of no longer being a truck driver, which he testified as his “childhood dream.” However, Longoria is cleared to work, with no indication from doctors that his ability to do so may change in the future. Texas law requires a “high degree of mental pain and distress.”
“Even when a plaintiff was no longer working as a result of injuries, her worries that her family could lose its house did not ‘rise to the level of compensable mental anguish.’” the court stated. “It follows that Longoria’s more speculative fear is not compensable.”
Since issues with past mental anguish and future physical impairment were never argued at the trial court, the appellate court ignored those arguments and allowed those verdicts to stand.
However, the appellate court did completely vacate the full award for future mental anguish, taking $140,000 off the final judgment. The court of appeals vacated the future physical pain award and kicked it back to the district court to reassess for a smaller amount. At $1 million, a significant drop in that award could greatly reduce the defendants’ financial burden.