Adams and Reese won a substantial appeal before the Louisiana Supreme Court that changes the law in Louisiana on the review of damage awards in personal injury cases. The Adams and Reese team was Leigh Ann Schell, Martin Stern, and Hogan Crosby.
Louisiana has a two-step process for reviewing general damages awards, i.e., awards for pain and suffering: 1) Is the award an abuse of discretion? 2) If so, based on a review of the case law, what is the lowest or highest amount the award can be without being an abuse of discretion?
The decision by Louisiana Supreme Court in Henry Pete v. Boland Marine and Manufacturing Company LLC, et., al. changes the way courts conduct Step 1 – whether an award is an abuse of discretion. Some Louisiana courts have operated under the belief that in conducting Step 1, they could not look at awards from prior cases. Other courts believed that they could look at prior awards, but only in a very limited fashion.
But exactly as Schell argued, the Supreme Court concluded that the failure to consider prior awards whatsoever on Step 1 deprived appellate courts of any objective basis for review. Writing for the Court, Justice Jay McCallum explained that “the inherently subjective nature of the abuse of discretion standard in the context of reviewing general damage awards compels that some measure of objectivity be incorporated into the determination of an award’s reasonableness, so that there is some standard for comparison.” Justice McCallum continued: “We now hold that an appellate court must consider relevant prior general damage awards as guidance in determining whether a trier of fact’s award is an abuse of discretion.”
Reacting to the decision, Schell explained its significance: “Adopting our request for a more objective standard, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that courts reviewing awards ‘must’ consider prior awards from similar cases in Step 1 to determine whether an award is an abuse of discretion. This is a significant change.” Indeed, this was borne out in Pete itself, with the Court reducing the approximate $10 million general damage award by nearly half to $5 million.
Adams and Reese enjoyed amicus support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Coalition for Litigation Justice, and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), among others.