Incorrect Rule Applied to Determine Whether Compensatory Damages Were Excessive; $40.6 Million Verdict Remanded

DELAWARE – On June 8, 2018, a Delaware jury awarded $40.6 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff, Paula Knecht, in a case previously reported by this blog. The defendant, Ford Motor Company (Ford), was assessed 20 percent liability, meaning the plaintiff was awarded $8.1 million against Ford.

Subsequently, Ford filed two post-trial motions:

  1. for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, a new trial
  2. for a new trial, or in the alternative, remittitur.

The trial judge denied both motions and Ford appealed.

Ford raised three issues on appeal:

  1. The plaintiff failed to prove Knecht’s injury was caused by Ford’s failure to warn
  2. The superior court erred by not granting a new trial on the ground that the jury rendered an irreconcilably inconsistent verdict
  3. The superior court erred by not granting a new trial or remittitur on the ground that the compensatory damages verdict was excessive.

The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rulings on the first two issues, but found the third had merit.

The superior court applied the rule for determining whether a jury’s verdict was excessive to Ford’s portion of the award, not the entire award. The Supreme Court ruled that the rule should have been applied to the entire award, as the inquiry must focus on the amount of the plaintiff’s damages as determined by the jury. Due to the superior court’s error of law, the Supreme Court remanded the case for a determination whether a new trial or remittitur was warranted.

Read the case decision here.