Seffert v. L.A. Transit Lines

56 Cal. 2d 498, 15 Cal. Rptr. 161, 364 P.2d 337 (1961)



The amount of damages is a fact question, first committed to the discretion of the jury and next to the discretion of the trial judge on a motion for new trial. They see and hear the witnesses and frequently see the injury and the impairment that has resulted therefrom. As a result, all presumptions are in favor of the decision of the trial court. The power of the appellate court differs materially from that of the trial court in passing on this question. An appellate court can interfere on the ground that the judgment is excessive only on the ground that the verdict is so large that, at first blush, it shocks the conscience and suggests passion, prejudice or corruption on the part of the jury.


Defendant bus company challenged a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which entered an award of $ 187,903.75 for plaintiff passenger after she sustained personal injuries while attempting to board a bus. The trial court also denied the bus company's motion for a new trial for errors of law and excessiveness of damages. The bus company argued that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was inapplicable and that the damages were excessive as a matter of law. 


Did the trial court err in its decision to deny the bus company’s motion for a new trial based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, and subsequently, in its grant of an award amounting to $189,903.75 to the plaintiff passenger?




The court found that superior knowledge by the bus company was not a prerequisite for the application of the doctrine, nor did participation by the passenger in the events leading to the accident preclude its application if there was evidence that her negligence, if any, was not a proximate cause of the accident. The court noted that the nonpecuniary items of damage included allowances for pain and suffering, past and future, humiliation as a result of being disfigured and being permanently crippled, and constant anxiety and fear that her leg would have to be amputated. The court found that while the amount of the award was high, it could not say, as a matter of law, that it was so high that it shocked the conscience and gave rise to the presumption that it was the result of passion or prejudice on the part of the jurors.

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