Compensatory Damages Award Cannot Be Remitted Unless the Plaintiff is Given the Option of a New Trial

In Hilb, Rogal & Hamilton et al. v. Beiersdoerfer, No. 1071395, released by the Alabama Supreme Court on September 25, 2009, the court held that a compensatory damages award cannot be remitted unless the plaintiff is given the option of a new trial. 

The Beiersdoerfer opinion is the most recent of three in the continuing Beirsdoerfer saga.  A fuller history is available here.  In this installment, the HRH corporations ("HRH") appeal from the trial court’s order remitting the compensatory damages awarded to Beiersdoerfer; Beiersdoerfer cross-appeals.  HRH argues that the remittitur was inadequate, while Beiersdoerfer argues that the remittitur was warranted that that HRH was not entitled to a set-off.  Both parties agreed, however, that the trial court’s order was due to be reversed because it did not give Beiersdoerfer the option of electing a new trial in lieu of the remittitur of compensatory damages. The court agreed, relying largely on Rule 59(f) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure:

The court may, on motion for new trial, require a remittitur as a condition to the overruling of the motion for new trial; and, the accpetance of such remittitur by the plaintiff shall not, on appeal by the defendant, prejudice the plaintiff’s reight to seek reinstatement of the verdict in its full amount.  

The court went on to cite a number of cases to the same effect: a trial court commits reversible error when it grants the defendant’s motion for a remittitur of compensatory damages without giving the plaintiffs an opportunity to choose a new trial in lieu of the remittitur.  As a result, because the trial court did not give Beiersdoerfer the option to elect a new trial, its order was reversed.