U.S. District Court Sets Aside Record Noneconomic Damage Award

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota conditionally granted a motion for a new trial last month on the issue of noneconomic damages in the case Thapa v. St. Cloud Orthopedic Associates. The plaintiff has until November 28 to file a letter stating whether he will agree to remit the jury’s award of noneconomic damages from $110 million to $10 million. If the plaintiff chooses to remit, the court will enter judgment. If the plaintiff chooses not to remit, the court will schedule a new trial on the issue of noneconomic damages.

In Thapa, the plaintiff, Anuj Thapa, presented to St. Cloud Hospital with a leg injury after being tackled during an indoor soccer game. He was treated by a St. Cloud Orthopedic-employed orthopedic surgeon and, following surgery, developed acute compartment syndrome. In September 2019, Thapa filed a medical liability lawsuit against St. Cloud Orthopedic, asserting that its employed providers were negligent in their care when they allegedly failed to diagnose and treat his acute compartment syndrome.

A May 2022 jury trial determined that St. Cloud Orthopedic was negligent in its care and treatment of Thapa. The jury awarded him $10 million for past pain, disability, disfigurement and emotional distress; $493,073.22 in past medical expenses; $100 million for future pain, disability, disfigurement and emotional distress; and $758,486 for future medical expenses. The total award was for $111,251,559.22.

St. Cloud Orthopedic appealed the verdict, arguing that it is entitled to a new trial on liability and damages because plaintiff’s counsel demonstrated a “pattern of misconduct designed to inflame the passion and prejudice of the jury” during his closing argument and the resulting verdict was “shockingly excessive and tainted by passion and prejudice.”

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota rejected the argument that unobjected-to statements by plaintiff’s counsel inflamed the passion and prejudice of the jury, causing a miscarriage of justice that warrants a new trial. The Court noted that counsel for the defense cannot as a rule remain silent, interpose no objections and — after a verdict has been returned — seize for the first time on the point that comments to the jury were improper and prejudicial. A review of the record shows the closing-argument comments at issue were made in the context of asking the jury to determine the appropriate amount of damages and were therefore not improper. Further, even if any remarks by plaintiff’s counsel constituted error, the Court found that they were “not of such magnitude that a new trial is warranted.”

As to St. Cloud Orthopedic’s claim that the jury verdict was shockingly excessive, the District Court agreed.

“Having presided over the trial and reviewed the trial transcripts, the parties’ filings and the applicable law, the Court agrees with Defendant that the jury’s $110 million non-economic damages award is shockingly excessive such that remittitur is required,” wrote United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung in the court’s opinion. “The evidence introduced at trial does not justify such an astronomical award. While Plaintiff has undergone a dozen painful surgeries to repair his leg, has significant scarring, a noticeable gait-altering limp, and experiences pain and mobility and balance issues, he is able to walk and take care of his daily needs … Plaintiff is not confined to a wheelchair, does not require round-the-clock supervision and has retained his basic cognitive functions.”

Having reviewed applicable law and comparable cases, the Court concluded that $10 million is the maximum amount of noneconomic damages that the jury could have reasonably awarded in this case.

“In sum, the Court finds that $110 million in non-economic damages is shockingly excessive in this case,” Leung wrote. “The Court will therefore offer Plaintiff the choice to accept a remittitur to $10 million in non-economic damages or to again try the issue of non-economic damages.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You may also like

Legislative panel approves medical malpractice bill
Read more
Urgent-care centers: Illinois numbers grow as time-pressed families seek low-cost option to ERs
Read more
Global Center for Medical Innovation launches
Read more

Recent Posts

Washington Supreme Court Overturns Medical Liability Statute of Repose

U.S. District Court Sets Aside Record Noneconomic Damage Award

Curi Holdings, Constellation Complete Merger to Offer Scale the Modern Healthcare Delivery System Requires

Popular Posts

PIAA 2017: Current Trends & Future Concerns

2022 Medical Malpractice Insurance Rates: What the data tells us

Global Center for Medical Innovation launches

Start Your Custom Quote Process™

Request a free quote