Last week a Salt Lake County jury awarded $1,500,000 in general damages to a 52-year old woman from St. Louis who was knocked down in a crosswalk at the airport by a driver for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Carol Smith v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, #150906643 (Hon. Matthew Bates)
The original complaint is here. This is a summary from David Cutt, co-counsel for plaintiff:
This was an auto-pedestrian personal injury case. The impact was very low speed but it was enough to knock the plaintiff down, and she smacked her head on the concrete. It happened in the rental car return area at the airport, and the defendant was Enterprise Rental Car. They admitted liability but contested causation. Defense counsel was Joe Joyce.
The plaintiff was a very nice 52-year old woman from St. Louis who was in Salt Lake for work. There was no loss of consciousness. She experienced bad headaches and mild cognitive problems, but the biggest element of damages was the loss of taste and smell. The defense neuropsych was Adam Schwebach, who claimed that she had no evidence of residual cognitive issues based on his testing. The defense also retained Alan Goldman, M.D., and he agreed that the plaintiff had a loss of taste and smell and that it was from the subject incident.
I focus-grouped the value of the loss of taste and smell twice. Both times the majority of people valued loss of taste and smell in the seven figures. As a result, I felt confident that we would get a verdict exceeding the defense offer.
The medical bills were only $19,000, so I filed a motion to exclude the bills and did not make any claim for medical expenses. We asked the jury for $5,000,000 in non-economic damages, and couldn’t have done that if the jury knew that the medical expenses were only $19,000. [Note- here is the motion to exclude medical bill evidence, the defense opposition, the plaintiff’s reply, and the court’s order.]
I called Dr. Goldman (the defense IME doctor) as the first witness, and he stuck to his opinion that the plaintiff had lost her sense of taste and sense of smell as a result of the incident. We completely abandoned the claim of cognitive problems. As a result, the defense did not call Dr. Schwebach. The judge granted my motion for a directed verdict on causation, so the only question on the verdict form was the amount of non-economic damages.
The jury awarded $1.5 million. The verdict was largely due to the fact that the plaintiff and her family were extremely nice people. The closing argument was a lot of fun because it was all about food– I don’t think I’ll ever be able to talk about bacon in a closing argument again!
The special verdict form is remarkable in its simplicity but, as negligence and causation were not in dispute by the time the trial closed, the court obviously decided that this one-line question was sufficient.
Note the trial took all of two days from start to finish– a testament to the efficiency and experience of counsel on both sides.