WA Case Update: Déjà Vu: Order for New Trial on General Damages Overturned

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: In a trial to determine special (economic) and general (noneconomic) damages, can the trial court order a new trial on the sole issue of general (noneconomic) damages? Read on to see how the Washington Court of Appeals ruled in this case.

Claims Pointer: In the following case, the jury awarded all of the plaintiff’s special (economic) damages, but awarded nothing in general (noneconomic) damages. When the plaintiff asked for a new trial, the court granted it. In the trial court’s view, the jury’s award of all the plaintiff’s economic damages meant that they believed that the accident caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Therefore, they felt that the jury’s failure to award noneconomic damages was inconsistent. The Washington Court of Appeals held that when a jury’s award of damages is inconsistent, a trial court may order a new trial. It explained that when an order for a new trial is appealed, appellate courts determine whether the court abused its discretion, not whether the jury’s decision made sense. The Court of Appeals also held that a new trial on damages cannot be limited to the amount of general damages. The new trial must be for both general and special damages.

Bechard v. Dalrymple, No. 32462-1-III, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III (August 25, 2015) (unpublished)

In 2007, Joyce Dalrymple was involved in an automobile accident when her vehicle collided with the vehicle driven by Linda Bechard. Randy Bechard was in the passenger seat. Mr. Bechard didn’t seek medical treatment until 8 days after the accident and the Bechards filed suit around three years after the accident. Mr. Bechard incurred $57,545.40 in medical costs (economic damages) by the time of trial. Ms. Dalrymple did not contest liability, but challenged the amount of Mr. Bechard’s damages.

The case was tried to a jury. The Bechards’ expert testified that Mr. Bechard’s condition was permanent and caused by the accident, even...

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