Trial Court Remittitur Greater Than 60% Is At Risk of Destroying a Jury’s Award Under Tennessee Law and Therefore Considered Invalid (43% Reduction Acceptable)

Posted on Sep 28 2014 3:50PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent interesting Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., No. W2013-01949-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3778743 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014), discussed the extent a remittitur of a jury’s award can be allowed.  A remittitur is simply a process where the trial can reduce a jury verdict award in order to make sure the award is not excessive and is reasonable under Tennessee law.  However, a remittitur by the trial court is not allowed to “destroy” the jury’s actual award.  If the jury award is “destroyed” upon a remittitur (as found by an appellate court), then the verdict is “impermissible and must be modified or vacated.”  Borne at 21.


As a result, the question is, to what extent can an award be reduced under remittitur principles and not be “destroyed”?  The Borne decision provided a good analysis of this question.  It addressed a recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision that discussed the “destruction” of an award by remittitur as follows:


The trial court's authority to suggest a remittitur of a jury's verdict rather than grant a new trial when it disagrees solely with the award of damages is not absolute. A suggested remittitur should not be so substantial as to destroy the jury's verdict. See Foster v. Amcon Int'l, Inc., 621 S.W.2d 142, 148 (Tenn. 1981). There is no set percentage that represents the destruction of the jury's verdict. See Id. at 148 n. 9 (“[W]e do not intend to establish a numerical standard for reviewing additurs and remittiturs.”); Webb v. Canada, No. E2006–01701–COA–R3–CV, 2007 WL 1519536, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 25, 2007) (“While we decline to establish any particular percentage that would indicate a remittitur that has totally destroyed a jury verdict, we note that [large] remittiturs by percentage have been found acceptable by this Court and the Supreme Court of our state.”).


See Meals v. Ford Motor Co., 417 S.W.3d 414 (Tenn. 2013). The Borne court noted “no numerical standard has been established by which remittiturs and additions are reviewed.” Borne at 21.  In the Borne case the jury verdict award was reduced from $3,705,000 to $2,100,000.  This is a reduction of 43% and could certainly be considered very significant.  The Court therefore reviewed other remittiturs and additurs to determine what constitutes a “destruction” of the jury award in Tennessee.  The Court found the following cases were relevant to this issue:


[W]e find the remittitur in this case is in line with other remittiturs which have been found not to destroy the verdict See, e.g. Jenkins v. Commodore Corp. S., 584 S.W.2d 773 (Tenn. 1979) (40% reduction did not destroy the verdict); Johnson v. Nunis, 383 S.W.3d 122, 135 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) (43% reduction did not destroy the verdict); Palanki v. Vanderbilt University, 125 S.W.3d 380 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (59% reduction did not destroy the verdict); Grandstaff, 36 S.W.3d 482 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (45% reduction did not destroy the verdict); Steel v. Ft. Sanders Anesthesia Group, P .C., 897 S.W.2d 270 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994) (40% reduction did not destroy the verdict); Rey v. Hestle, 1992 WL 102231, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992) (60% reduction did not destroy the verdict). Compare Foster, 621 S.W.2d at 148 (additur thirty times that of the jury verdict destroyed the verdict); Meals, 417 S.W.3d at 423 (70.55% reduction destroyed the verdict); Lashlee v. Harper's Chrysler, No. M2007–00443–COA–R3–CV, 2008 WL 3983120, at *12 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008) (95% reduction destroyed the verdict).


As a result, the Court ultimately held that a 43% reduction in the award by remittitur did not “destroy” the verdict and therefore did not violate this principle of law.  Based upon a review of the cases cited in this decision, it appears the line where a remittitur “destroys” the jury verdict award is somewhere greater than 60%.  Remittiturs have been found acceptable in Tennessee within a range of between 40% and 60%.  Reductions of 70% or greater have been found to destroy the jury verdict.  So somewhere between 60% and 70% is the line where a remittitur destroys the jury verdict and should be modified or vacated by the Tennessee appellate court. 


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TAGS: Jury Issues, Damages, Post Judgment Motions
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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