Friday, June 5, 2015

More Non-Judgment Judgments

Lee v. Silveira, No. F067723 (D5 as modified June 8, 2015)

A PI plaintiff makes a § 998 offer of judgment for a million dollars. Defendant does not accept. The verdict was more than $1 million, but the court reduced the award under Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., 52 Cal. 4th 541, 548 (2011), which says the plaintiff is entitled to a damages award in the amount of her paid medical bills, not the amounts first billed, because the bills have no relationship with economic reality. After the reduction, the award dropped below $1 million. It is pretty clear that had the jury been asked calculate damages under Howell, the plaintiff wouldn’t have beaten the offer and thus couldn’t shift her substantial expert costs to defendant. The fact that the trial court did so post-hoc shouldn’t lead to a different result. The court so holds.

The court goes on to address a second issue regarding post-judgment procedure. Like a lot of post-judgment issues, it turns on the timing of the judgment. The jury’s original verdict was reflected in a document called “Judgment on Jury Verdict,” which, notwithstanding its title, specifically noted that it was subject to post-trial adjustments for the medical expenses and prejudgment interest. Defendants moved to reduce the “judgment” for the delta between the paid and billed expenses. Plaintiff did not contest the adjustment, but argued that prejudgment interest and her expert fees should be tacked on before the court made the adjustment. The court agreed with plaintiff and ultimately entered a new, final judgment that included the interest and fees.  Defendant then moved under Code of Civil Procedure § 663 to vacate the judgment and enter a new one.

Plaintiff argued that the first “Judgment on Jury Verdict” was a bona fide judgment and thus should have been attacked by a motion for new trial. So when Defendant’s first motion was effectively denied, that was like denying a new trial motion, which is an appealable order that divests the court of jurisdiction to act further.

Problem is, an order that foresees further action by the trial court is not a judgment even if it has the word “judgment” in its title. (I really wish trial courts wouldn’t do that because of the chaos it tends to create, but it happens all the time.) So a post-verdict, pre-judgment motion directed to a remedy within the province of the trial court was entirely proper. And then when a legit final judgment did enter, a § 663 motion was an appropriate vehicle for defendant to use to have it corrected.


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