An appellate court in New Mexico has affirmed an enormous jury award for the family of a mother and daughter killed in a crash involving a FedEx driver. The $165 million award is the largest ever in New Mexico.
On Feb. 6, the Court of Appeals of New Mexico filed an opinion on a district court ruling from Jan. 24, 2015, that awarded the family of Marialy Venegas Morga and her daughter, Ylairam Morga, $165 million for a fatal crash involving a FedEx truck.
FedEx had filed an appeal, arguing the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial or for a reduction of the jury award. Attorneys for FedEx argued that the jury’s verdict was tainted by passion, prejudice, partiality, sympathy, undue influence or a mistaken measure of damages, according to court documents.
On June 22, 2011, at approximately 1:30 a.m. on an interstate between Las Cruces and Deming, N.M., the mother’s pickup truck was struck by a FedEx tractor-trailer. Her 4-year-old daughter, Ylairam, and 19-month-old son were also in the pickup truck. The pickup was either stopped or barely moving when the FedEx truck struck the vehicle at 65 mph without slowing down. The mother, daughter and the truck driver were killed. The 19-month-old son was severely injured.
The mother’s husband, Alfredo Morga, filed a wrongful death suit against FedEx in July 2012. A jury decided that FedEx’s fault for the crash was 65 percent, all three FedEx contractors named were responsible for 10 percent each and the mother’s fault at 5 percent.
The jury determined the following compensatory damages:
- For the wrongful death of the daughter, $61 million
- For the wrongful death of the mother, $32 million
- For personal injury and loss of consortium for his mother to the 19-month-old son, $32 million
- For emotional distress from physical/psychological injury, $40.125 million
- For the loss of consortium of his daughter, to the husband and father, Alfredo Morga, $208,000
- For the loss of consortium of her daughter to the mother, $200,000.
No punitive damages were awarded.
After FedEx motioned for a new trial or to reduce damages, the district court concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the verdict and that the verdict was not based on passion, prejudice, partiality or other listed factors. FedEx did not argue the determination of liability.
Despite the record-breaking amount of the jury award, the appellate court referred to case law that states “A jury’s damages award will be upheld unless it appears that the amount awarded is grossly out of proportion to the injury received as to shock the conscience.” The appellate court opined that “an award of damages will be disturbed only in extreme circumstances.”
FedEx argued that the “noneconomic” injuries and damages awards were excessive. However, FedEx also acknowledged that such injuries and damages are “unique, intangible and difficult to quantify in financial terms.” Accordingly, the appellate court said that “the judicial system relies on juries and trial courts, as representatives of their local community, to best evaluate and determine the monetary value of these noneconomic injuries…”
As the husband/father and the other plaintiffs offered evidence supporting their case for compensation, FedEx opted to not submit such evidence. According to appellate court documents, FedEx’s counsel specifically told the jury they would not submit a number regarding value of life.
“You have to rely on your own conscious when you’re looking at the value of life,” FedEx counsel told jurors, according to court records.
The appellate court refused to establish a legal threshold or limit.
Even though FedEx argued that the verdict exceeded the next highest jury award by tens of millions of dollars, they did not cite any specific examples in their appeal. Consequently, the appellate court was under no obligation to do FedEx’s homework for them and consider the possibility.
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