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Brannock Humphries & Berman Obtains Reversal of Order Granting New Trial

After the trial court undid the jury’s favorable verdict for the plaintiff in an underinsured-motorist case, the Second District Court of Appeal agreed with Brannock Humphries & Berman that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard in granting Progressive Select Insurance Company’s request for a new trial.

The case stems from a serious multicar accident while the 32-year-old plaintiff was on her way to a Tampa Bay Rays game with her family. The accident “snapped” her body, totaled her car, and left her with permanent injuries. The driver who caused the accident was underinsured, so the plaintiff looked to Progressive, her insurer, for underinsured-motorist benefits.

After hearing the evidence at a trial in which Progressive presented only one witness, the jury awarded the plaintiff economic and noneconomic damages totaling more than $2 million. Unhappy with the result, Progressive sought a new trial and a remittitur of the damages. But the remittitur motion did not suggest an amount to which the verdict should be reduced—a requirement for such motions—so the trial court denied it as legally deficient. But the trial court nevertheless granted Progressive’s motion for a new trial, finding that the jury’s verdict was excessive.

Representing the plaintiff on appeal, Brannock Humphries & Berman argued that the trial court erred by applying the remittitur statute to grant a whole new trial. The Second District agreed. The appellate court held that Progressive’s failure to file a proper remittitur motion precluded the trial court from ordering a new trial based on the excessiveness of the verdict, as defined by the remittitur statute, rather than the well-worn standard for new trials established by the Florida Supreme Court. The Second District remanded the case for the trial court to reconsider the motion for new trial under the correct legal standard.