Often, clients ask us if we think their case will go to trial. The simple answer is no. Not all cases that are filed will go to trial. We get this question quite a bit from a lot of our clients who have a Fear of Public Speaking. According to some experts about 75% of the population suffers from some fear of public speaking.  As a matter of fact, most cases will settle and resolve outside of a trial. Sometimes they are resolved pre-suit and other times pre-trial but after a lawsuit is on file. Our Law Firm prides itself on fighting for every penny our clients deserve. We will regularly file suit and litigate cases in order to make sure our clients are treated fairly. However, under most circumstances filing suit doesn’t always lead to a jury trial.

As a matter of fact, some Car Accident Cases or Personal Injury Cases will result in a bench trial. The Difference between a Bench Trial and a Jury Trial is just that, the Jury! According to Merriam Webster, a Bench Trial is defined as, “a trial which there is no jury and the judge decides the case.” Therefore, in a Bench Trial the Judge will hear the evidence of liability and damages and ultimately decide those issues.

Bench trials are rare for Civil Personal Injury cases but do happen on occasion. Generally, Bench Trials are reserved for lower level criminal cases or minor traffic offenses. In most of those cases, the judge will decide the case. In Civil cases like personal injury cases, a Bench trial might come up in front of a Federal Magistrate or Judge. In other instances, there is a decision on liability so the parties have agreed to try the matter of damages directly to the trial court judge. 

Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals rendered an opinion on a Car Accident Case that was tried to the Bench in the case of Renner v. Shepard Bazant.

Sydney Renner and Trevor Shepard-Bazant were in a three-car crash and Renner was injured. She filed suit against Shepard-Bazant. He defaulted on liability (fault) and a bench trial on damages was held. The trial court awarded $132,000 in damages to Renner.  She filed a motion to correct error asking the trial court to increase her damages. The trial court denied the motion. Renner appealed.   Renner claimed that she suffered a concussion in the crash, which was the third known concussion of her life. It began a lengthy battle with post-concussion syndrome and its effects. After a seven-day bench trial, the trial court awarded $132,000 in damages and calculated those damages as follows:

“Considering the totality of Sydney’s damages, including the long-term effect of her injuries and her life expectancy, the Court will assign a daily value of $30.00 each of the 21,900 days of her life expectancy and adjust the product of that multiplication to determine the portion of damages for which Trevor is liable, taking into consideration all five concussions she suffered from 2013 to 2016, along with her medical expenses and her failure to follow post-concussion protocols recommended by her treating professionals.”

Renner’s appeal was based on the claim that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to correct error. In her motion to correct error, she challenges the trial court’s damages calculation. She claimed the trial court’s damages award was an abuse of discretion because the court failed to consider that her prior two concussions made her more susceptible to her third concussion arising from the collision with Shepard-Bazant, and made it more likely that the effects of that third concussion would be more severe, possibly permanent.

Given Indiana law on the “eggshell skull” plaintiff and the undisputed evidence regarding the effects of Renner’s prior concussions upon the severity and long-term effects of the concussion she sustained due to Shepard-Bazant’s negligence, the Court of Appeals concluded the court’s treatment of Renner’s prior two concussions as separate incidents, rather than as contributing to Renner’s injuries and damages arising from the auto accident, was against the logic and effects of the facts and circumstances before the court and resulted in error in the calculation of damages.

Shepard-Bazant also argued that Renner failed to mitigate her damages and that was an explanation for why the trial court set her damages at an amount far less than she requested. However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that Shepard-Bazant did not come forward with evidence that any particular incident or conduct after the crash caused Renner to suffer a discrete, identifiable harm arising from that conduct, rather than Shepard-Bazant’s negligence.

Renner claimed that the trial court accepted her method of calculating her damages but inappropriately subtracted $131,400 for each of the two prior concussions and the two head injuries she had after the crash. Renner asked the Court of Appeals to simply increase the award accordingly. The Court of Appeals declined, instead ordering the trial court to retry the case.

In Renner, the Indiana Court of Appeals rightfully applied the legal standard for failing to mitigate damages and stated that the defendant failed to present any evidence in support of its allegations that Renner failed to mitigate her damages. Remember that if you are in an accident and suffer personal injury, you MUST mitigate your damages. If you or a loved one has been in an accident, then contact us. We can walk you through the process of dealing with the insurance company.