Iowa Supreme Court Holds that Jury Award of One Dollar for Past Pain and Suffering is Inconsistent with Award for Past Medical Expenses and Lost Earnings.

Posted on: December 11th, 2015

Plaintiff, an auto dealership salesman, was injured while on a test drive with a potential buyer.  Plaintiff had instructed the potential buyer to make an illegal left hand turn, which is when the vehicle was hit by an oncoming car.  Plaintiff hit his head, briefly lost consciousness, and was taken to the emergency room.  Plaintiff complained of pain, which doctors were unable to find any physiological explanation for.  He was prescribed pain medication and discharged that evening.  Plaintiff continued to complain of pain and headaches.  He treated with a chiropractor, a physician chosen by his employer, and a physical therapist.

At trial, Defendants challenged Plaintiff’s evidence regarding his pain and need for treatment.  Defense counsel presented evidence that Plaintiff had a pre-existing injury which he received chiropractic treatment for, an expert who found Plaintiff was exaggerating his symptoms during an IME, and a chiropractic expert who testified Plaintiff’s treatments were excessive and that the chiropractic adjustments he was receiving would generally be intolerable for persons with serious back problems.  The jury returned a verdict awarding past medical expenses and lost earnings totaling $18,512.19.  The jury was sent back with an instruction that an award of past medical expenses required an award for past pain and suffering.  The jury awarded one dollar for past pain and suffering.  The jury was discharged.

On appeal, the Iowa Supreme Court determined that the verdict was inconsistent with an award of medical expenses and lost earnings because a dollar constitutes nominal damages.  The Court reasoned that if it believed Plaintiff’s pain was nonexistent or unrelated to the accident, it should not have awarded the amount it did for medical expenses or lost earnings.  The Court remanded for a new trial on all elements of damages.  Justices Mansfield and Cady concurred in part and dissented in part on the basis that future damages should not be retried.

Bryant v. Parr, No. 13-1883 (Iowa Dec. 11, 2015)

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