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Huber v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 19, 2019

ROBERT D. HUBER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently pending before the court are the parties’ recommendations for quantum of damages, ECF Nos. 49 & 50. Based on the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, ECF No. 48, and both parties’ recommendations, the court will award Plaintiff damages in the amount of $468,119.82.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Robert D. Huber, Jr. filed his lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671 et seq., following a traffic collision between him and a federal employee driving a Government Services Administration vehicle in the course and scope of his employment with the United States Department of the Army. The court held a five-day bench trial in January 2018. On April 16, 2019, this court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law, entered judgment in Plaintiff’s favor, and concluded that Plaintiff sustained his burden of proof on his negligence claim and that the accident was the proximate cause of his injuries. ECF No. 48, Mem. Op. at 1, (II)(2)(B). However, the court was unable to determine an appropriate quantum of damages because “not all of Huber’s psychological problems have been shown to be the result of the accident.” Id. at 11. The court ordered both parties to submit supplemental briefing on the issue of damages and to provide suggested calculations and the basis for those calculations. Id. at 11–12.

         Plaintiff recommends a damages award of $1,297,087.82-$72,087.86 for past medical costs and $1,225,000 for pain and suffering. See generally Pl.’s Recommendation, ECF No. 49. Defendant recommends a damages award of no greater than $86,007.82-$71,007.82 for past medical costs and $15,000 for pain and suffering. See generally Def.’s Recommendation, ECF No. 50.

         II. DAMAGES PRINCIPLES

         The fundamental principle for determining the amount of damages to be awarded to a plaintiff stems from the seminal case, Story Parchment Co. v. Paterson Parchment Paper Co., 282 U.S. 555 (1931). See Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d 680, 684 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (noting that Story Parchment Co. “states the American rule on damages[.]”). In Story Parchment Co., the Supreme Court stated that “while the damages may not be determined by mere speculation or guess, it will be enough if the evidence show the extent of damages as a matter of just and reasonable inference, although the result be only approximate.” 282 U.S. at 563.

         The amount of damages requires only a reasonable estimate. See Samaritan Inns, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 114 F.3d 1227, 1235 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (Plaintiff must “prove the fact of injury with reasonable certainty, [and prove] the amount of damages . . . based on a reasonable estimate.”); Wood v. Day, 859 F.2d 1490, 1493 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (Plaintiff must provide only “some reasonable basis on which to estimate damages.”) (quoting Romer v. District of Columbia, 449 A.2d 1097, 1100 (D.C. 1982)). Thus, the court’s task is to “make a just and reasonable estimate of the damage based on relevant data.” United States ex rel. Miller v. Bill Harbert Int’l Constr., Inc., 608 F.3d 871, 905 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Bigelow v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 327 U.S. 251, 264 (1946)). The relevant data may include “probable and inferential, as well as direct and positive proof.” Bigelow, 327 U.S. at 264 (quoting Story Parchment Co., 282 U.S. at 561). Damages “may not be determined by mere speculation or guess . . . although the result be only approximate.” Hill, 328 F.3d at 684 (quoting Story Parchment Co., 282 U.S. at 563).

         In the District of Columbia, “[a]n award of damages must . . . avoid[] extravagant awards that bear little or no relation to the actual injury involved.” Campbell–Crane & Assocs. v. Stamenkovic, 44 A.3d 924, 945 (D.C. 2012) (internal citations omitted). The damages award “must be proportional to the harm actually suffered.” Phillips v. District of Columbia, 458 A.2d 722, 726 (D.C. 1983).

         Finally, the “court must explain the reasons for the determination of the damages award and tether these reasons to the record.” Rhodes v. United States, 967 F.Supp.2d 246, 314(D.D.C. 2013); see also Eureka Inv. Corp., N.V. v. Chicago Title Ins. Co., 743 F.2d 932, 940 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (“[I]t is essential that the trial court give sufficient indication of how it computed the amount so that the reviewing court can determine whether it is supported by the record.”) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff seeks $72,087.86 in economic damages for medical bills and $1,225,000 in non-economic damages for pain and suffering. See generally Pl.’s Recommendation. Specifically, Plaintiff requests non-economic damages that include: $700,000 for the extent and duration of his physical injuries; $250,000 for the effects his physical injuries have on his overall physical and emotional well-being; $100,000 for acute pain and $100,000 for chronic headaches; and $75,000 for inconveniences he has experienced in the past or may experience in the future. See id at 2, 4, 6, 7.

         Plaintiff bases his request on five factors from the District of Columbia Standardized Civil Jury Instructions § 13.01, 1–7: (1) the extent and duration of plaintiff’s injuries; (2) the effects that any physical injuries have on plaintiff’s overall physical and emotional well-being; (3) any physical pain and emotional distress that the plaintiff has suffered in the past or may suffer in the future; (4) any inconvenience the plaintiff has experienced in the past or may experience in the future; and (5) past and future medical expenses. See Pl.’s Recommendation at 2–8.

         Although Defendant contends this court is not bound by the D.C. jury instructions, see Def.’s Recommendation at 4 (citing to 8th Circuit cases), judges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia may use these jury instructions as a “useful reference” when considering a damages award. See Rhodes, 967 F.Supp.2d at 324–25 (referring to the D.C. Standardized Civil Jury Instruction § 13.01, 1–7 in its damages analysis). Because Plaintiff has ...


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