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On appeal, the court determined that the damage award was excessive based on the plaintiff’s injuries. Sutherland v Don Dee Trucking Corp. 2008 NY Slip Op 52576(U) [22 Misc 3d 1101(A)]


A rear-end accident, often called a rear-end collision, occurs when one vehicle crashes into the back of another vehicle. It’s one of the most common types of car accidents. Typically, the trailing vehicle is at fault for failing to maintain a safe following distance or failing to stop in time to avoid a collision. These accidents can result in various injuries, with whiplash being a frequent outcome due to the rapid forward and backward movement of the occupants’ heads. Rear-end accidents can vary in severity, from minor fender benders to more serious collisions, depending on the speed and force of impact.

In the case of Sutherland v Don Dee Trucking Corp., liability was not contested. The issue was the amount of damages. The Supreme Court, Kings County was asked to determine if the amount of damages the jury awarded was plaintiff was reasonable given the defendant’s injuries.

Factual Background
On July 14, 2003 plaintiff Alric Sutherland was involved in a motor vehicle collision. The accident occurred when a truck owned by Don Dee Trucking Corp. and operated by its employee, Marlan P. Hill, rear-ended the vehicle Sutherland was driving. Liability for the accident was not contested, but Sutherland claimed that he sustained herniated discs in his neck and back as a result of the collision. The case proceeded to trial, focusing solely on the determination of damages.

At trial, the jury awarded Sutherland a substantial sum, comprising $245,000 for past pain and suffering, $700,000 for future pain and suffering, $470,000 for future physical therapy, and $50,000 for future diagnostic testing. The total amount awarded reached $1,465,000. The defendant appealed.

The court’s decision in this case revolves around several critical aspects. Firstly, it acknowledges that Sutherland did establish a prima facie case that he suffered a serious injury, as defined by Insurance Law § 5102(d). This was supported by medical evidence presented during the trial, including expert testimonies that demonstrated limitations in Sutherland’s range of motion and objective evidence of herniations resulting from the accident.

However, the court also held that the jury’s award of $1,465,000 in damages was excessive and not in line with reasonable compensation for the injuries sustained. Therefore, it ordered a new trial on damages, suggesting reduced figures for past and future pain and suffering, as well as future therapy. The award for future diagnostic testing remained unaffected.

The court’s role in reviewing jury verdicts is to assess whether the jury’s conclusion aligns with the evidence presented at trial. While courts generally exercise caution in overturning jury verdicts to avoid undermining the jury’s role, they may intervene if the award significantly deviates from what would be considered reasonable compensation.

In this instance, the court found that Sutherland had indeed met the threshold for proving a serious injury. Medical evidence and expert testimonies supported his claim, establishing limitations in his range of motion and the presence of herniations attributable to the accident.

However, the court also recognized that the jury’s award of $1,465,000 was excessive when compared to similar cases involving soft tissue injuries. Therefore, it exercised its authority to order a new trial on damages, proposing reduced figures for past and future pain and suffering, as well as future therapy.

While in many personal injury cases the issue of liability is unclear. The parties spend a lot of time producing evidence in an attempt to show that they other part was liable or that they were not liable. However, in this case liability was not in dispute.  When it comes to rear-end accident cases, typically is the following car that is liable because they were either tailgating or driving too fast to stop. Liability is one of the main issues in a personal injury case. The other is damages. The amount of damages depends on several factors, including the severity of injuries.  If you have been injured in a car accident, it is critical that you immediately contact an experienced New York car accident lawyer. Legal representation can help navigate the complexities of such cases and ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout the legal process.


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