Law School Case Brief
Anderson v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. - 377 F. Supp. 136 (E.D. La. 1974)
The legal standard on which to gauge a jury verdict for remittitur purposes is the "maximum recovery rule." This rule directs the trial judge to determine whether the verdict of the jury exceeds the maximum amount which the jury could reasonably find and if it does, the trial judge may then reduce the verdict to the highest amount that the jury could properly have awarded. Thus, the court's task is to ascertain, by scrutinizing all of the evidence as to each element of damages, what amount would be the maximum the jury could have reasonably awarded.
Plaintiff H.B., an infant, was severely burned and permanently injured when her home was consumed by fire. Plaintiff Mildred Britain, H.B. mother, was also seriously injured in the fire. The fire was ignited by a defective heater that was manufactured and sold by defendant Sears, Roebuck & Co. ("Sears"). Thereafter, Mildred and her husband, plaintiff Harry Britain, individually and as administrator of H.B.'s estate, filed an lawsuit federal district court against Sears and several other companies, alleging that Sears was negligent in the installation, maintenance, and repair of the heater, and that Sears and other defendant companies were liable as the manufacturers of the heater and its component parts. After trial, a jury rendered a verdict for plaintiffs and awarded $250,000 to Mildred; $23,000 to Harry, individually, and; $ 2million to H.B. Before the court was Sears' post-trial motion for remittitur as to H.B.'s damage award.
Were the damages awarded to H.B. excessive, rendering the award susceptible to remittitur?
The court denied the motion for remittitur. The court applied the "maximum recovery rule," which directed a trial judge to determine whether the verdict of the jury exceeded the maximum amount it could reasonably have found, based on an analysis of all of the evidence as to each element of damages. The court ruled that H.B.'s award was well within the amount the jury could have awarded. Sears' challenge of the verdict on the ground that the amount awarded exceeded the amount requested in plaintiffs' complaint was rejected because the complaint was properly amended to conform to the verdict.
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