Remittitur

The term “remittitur” refers to a judge’s ruling that reduces the amount of damages that are awarded upon the conclusion of a civil trial. For example, a remittitur is typically put in place when the amount the jury decides to award is more than the plaintiff asked for. A remittitur can also be issued if the damages awarded do not surpass the amount demanded, but if the judge still finds the award to be excessive. To explore this concept, consider the following remittitur definition.

Definition of Remittitur

Noun

  1. A ruling made by a judge that overrules the jury’s verdict in a civil case if the judge finds the damage award to be excessive when compared to the original demand.

Origin

Latin    (remittere)

Motion for Remittitur

A defendant who is not happy with the result of the trial in his case can file either request a new trial or file a motion for remittitur. The court can either grant the motion for remittitur and reduce the damage award, or the court can order a new trial in the matter.

The odds of being granted a new trial are slim, however. In order to be granted a new trial, the jury must award the exact amount of damages the plaintiff asked for. Additionally, a new trial may be granted if the jury awards damages related to medical bills and the loss of wages but adds nothing toward pain and suffering.

Remittitur in the Appellate Court

The term “remittitur” may have different meanings depending on where it is used. For example, remittitur in the appellate court means something different entirely. When a remittitur in the appellate court is issued, this is the appellate court’s way of saying the case is effectively dead. The court is confirming that the decision that was made in the trial court was correct, and that it should be considered the final decision in that matter and that’s that. A remittitur in the appellate court effectively gives the trial court continuing jurisdiction over the matter.

Remittitur Example Involving Copyright Infringement

An example of remittitur can be found in the case of Capital Records, Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset, which, after several trials, finally came to a settlement of sorts in March 2013. Here, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a mother of four, was sent a cease-and-desist letter and settlement offer by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after they discovered she had shared 24 copyrighted songs on the internet. The RIAA offered her a settlement offer of $5,000, else they would litigate the matter. She refused, and so they and several other major record companies brought the suit.

Interestingly, while the plaintiffs alleged during the first trial in the matter that Thomas-Rasset had shared a total of 1,702 tracks online, they were only interested in pursuing her for the 24 songs in their claim. The songs included such well-known artists as Aerosmith, Green Day, and No Doubt. Thomas-Rasset denied downloading the files, claiming she was not the owner of the account. The jury ultimately found her guilty of willful infringement and awarded the plaintiff’s statutory damages under 17 USC 92 § 504(c)(2) in the amount of $9,250 per song, or $222,000.

Thomas-Rasset requested and was granted a retrial. During the retrial, the plaintiffs asked the court to make an example out of Thomas-Rasset, bringing up again how she had over 1,700 songs available on her Kazaa account. The plaintiffs were awarded damages in the amount of $1.92 million – $80,000 per song. This grossly exceeded the law’s limitation of $150,000 for the total award.

In July 2009, Thomas-Rasset filed a motion requesting the damages be reduced, as they were so grossly over what is allowed in actual damages that the award could effectively be deemed unconstitutional. The following January, the judge reduced the damages to $54,000, or $2,250 per song under remittitur, going as far to say that the original award was “monstrous and shocking.”

The plaintiffs then offered Thomas-Rasset $25,000 to settle. She declined, so they rejected the damage reduction. A third trial in the matter was then set. The court again reduced the damages to $54,000. Plaintiffs appealed, and the court reinstated the initial $222,000, saying the District Court erred in reducing the amount, as the $222,000 award was constitutional. In March 2013, Thomas-Rasset announced she was going to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying the $222,000. The RIAA agreed to lower the amount if she would make a video about copyright infringement. She refused and, as of April 2016, the RIAA stated they had yet to see a cent of the $222,000.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Cease-and-Desist Letter – A document sent to an individual or business asking that they immediately stop participating in a particular activity and refrain from continuing to do so in the future.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Jury – A group of people sworn to render a verdict in a trial, based on evidence presented.
  • Litigate – Take a dispute to a court of law to be decided upon by a judge and/or jury.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.
  • Verdict – A decision made by a judge or jury upon the conclusion of a civil or criminal trial.

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