Ahmad v. State – 7/12/2016

August 18, 2016

The Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that remittitur in wrongful death cases must be based on specific findings.

Law enforcement officers from several cities and the Arizona Department of Public Safety engaged in a high-speed pursuit of a bank robbery suspect.  During the pursuit, the suspect accelerated to 113 mph, crossed the center lane, and hit an oncoming car.  Neither the suspect nor the other driver survived.

The driver’s parents sued the state for wrongful death.  The jury awarded $30 million in damages and found the state 5% of fault.  The state filed a motion for a remittitur, which the trial court granted.  In its order, the trial court succinctly stated that the jury’s award was excessive and a $10 million award would instead be reasonable.

The Court of Appeals reversed because the trial court failed to identify any basis for determining that the jury’s verdict was not “fair and just” under A.R.S. § 12-613, a standard that indicates the legislature’s intent to grant juries broad discretion in wrongful death cases.  The Court further noted that damages for wrongful death are not limited to economic damages and that requests for remittitur need not be guided by a canvass of jury verdicts in similar cases.

Judge Swann authored the opinion of the court, in which Judges Winthrop and Kessler joined.