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Appeals Court Reinforces Correct Interpretation of Rule 169 Damage Caps

         On July 6, 2016, the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso released an opinion addressing the $100K damage cap in expedited actions under TRCP 169. The "Expedited Actions" rule allows for certain cases to benefit from streamlined discovery and trial requirements which "promote the prompt, efficient, and cost-effective resolution of civil actions when the amount in controversy does not exceed $100,000." In order to gain the benefits of the expedited action rule, a claimant may not (1) seek greater than $100K in his affirmative pleading or (2) recover in excess of $100K, excluding post-judgment interest.

          In the case at hand, Cross v. Wager, the Plaintiff brought an expedited action under TRCP 169 seeking less than $100K; however, at trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff $170K in damages. Applying the jury's division of responsibility (49% on Plaintiff and 51% on Defendant), the trial court reduced the $170k award by 49%.

          Defendant appealed the judgment as a violation of TRCP 169 and argued that the trial court should have reduced the jury's finding to $100K and then applied proportionate responsibility, which would have resulted in a much lower final judgment. Defendant relied on Comment 4 to TRCP 169, which clarifies that the rule set forth in Greenhalgh v. Service Lloyds allowing for amended pleadings post-judgment in order to conform to a jury's award does not apply to expedited actions under TRCP 169 in which the jury awards damages in excess of $100K. The 8th Court of Appeals was unpersuaded by this argument and easily distinguished the Greenhalgh rule and Comment 4 from the case at bar.

          First, the Court explained that Greenhalgh was not a TRCP 169 case - and allowing the amended pleading in Greenhalgh only involved the issue of prejudice or unfair surprise, not a damages cap. Second, the Court clarified that the $100K cap in TRCP 169 applies to (1) the Pleadings and (2) the final judgment, and not to the jury's award. Significantly, the Court specified that TRCP 169 does "not prevent a claimant from asking the jury to award damages totaling more than $100,000, nor does it bar a trial court from considering the jury's award of damages totaling more than $100,000 [before] reducing the claimant's recovery based on his percentage of responsibility." (Emphasis added).

          Finally, the Court reminded us that the intent of Comment 4 was to prevent an "end run" around the TRCP 169 cap: preventing a Plaintiff who was awarded more than $100K from supplementing his pleading to remove the matter from the Expedited Rule and circumvent the cap. The Court concluded that because the final judgment fell below the $100K-cap, Comment 4 was inapplicable to this case, and the Court affirmed the trial court's final judgment.

Takeaways:

· TRCP 169's damage cap does not limit the amount a party may request from the jury.

· TRCP 169's damage cap does not limit the amount a jury may award.

· TRCP169's damage cap DOES apply to the final judgment.

 

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