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Decision Alert: Cuevas: NJ Supreme Court – Standards for Remittitur

juryroomNew Jersey Courts have historically treated personal injury verdicts with great respect. Verdicts were set aside only in the clearest of cases and for very specific reasons based upon the record of each case.

In 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in the case of He v. Miller, 207 N.J. 230 (2011), changed that historical standard and ruled that, in cases in which the trial court is requested to reduce a jury verdict on a motion for remittitur, the trial court could consider its own “feel of the case” and the judge’s personal knowledge of verdicts from experience as a lawyer and a judge.

The He Court reduced a $1,000,000 jury award to $200,000 and the Supreme Court upheld that reduction.

Now, only five years later, New Jersey’s highest court has reversed course and repudiated its holding in the He case.

In, Ramon Cuevas v. Wentworth Group (A-30-14) (Sept. Term 2014, Decided Sept. 19, 2016), the Court held that its He holding was not “sound in principle or workable in practice.”  It further held, that a trial judge’s personal knowledge of verdicts as a lawyer and a judge “is information outside the record and not subject to the typical scrutiny evidence receives in the adversarial process.”  Contact us for a copy of the Court’s own published decision and Syllabas (prepared by the Office of the Clerk).

The Court ruled that the trial judge should therefore decide such motions on the traditional basis of an analysis of the case, the testimony of the witnesses, the nature, extent and duration of the plaintiff’s injuries and the impact of those injuries on the plaintiff’s life.

The Court expressed its confidence that those cases justifying a reduction of a jury verdict “will be glaring and obvious from the record.”

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