Duguay v. Gelinas

Decision Date29 June 1962
Citation104 N.H. 182,182 A.2d 451
PartiesDoris DUGUAY v. Andrew E. GELINAS. Doris DUGUAY v. Kenneth DUGUAY.
CourtNew Hampshire Supreme Court

Broderick, Manning & Sullivan, James A. Manning, Manchester, for plaintiff.

Booth, Wadleigh, Langdell, Starr & Peters, Robert P. Booth, Manchester, for defendant Andrew E. Gelinas.

Devine, Millimet & McDonough, J. Murray Devine, Manchester, for defendant Kenneth Duguay.

KENISON, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this case is whether counsel in argument to the jury may use a mathematical formula by stating that specific sums per day, hour or minute may be allowed as damages for pain and suffering, or that definite amounts should be allowed for component parts of the total injuries. This issue has not been decided in this state although it has received extensive consideration in other jurisdictions. Annot. 60 A.L.R.2d 1347. The advantages and disadvantages of such arguments, the necessity for and the dangers flowing from such arguments and their general propriety or impropriety have not been neglected in modern legal commentary. Keeton, Creative Continuity in the Law of Torts, 75 Harv.L.Rev. 463, 466-467 (1962); Lambert, Comments on Recent Important Personal Injury (Tort) Cases, 25 NACCA L.J. 47, 68 (1960) and 28 NACCA L.J. 63, 280-284 (1962); 19 Ohio L.J. 780 (1958); 43 Minn.L.Rev. 832 (1959); 41 B.U.L.Rev. 432 (1961); 45 Marq.L.Rev. 289 (1961); 33 So.Cal.L.Rev. 214 (1960); 15 U. of Miami L.Rev. 85 (1960); 22 La.L.Rev. 461 (1962).

Plaintiff's counsel attempted to separate the component parts of the damages and place a definite value on each one. The Court permitted the separation but ruled that a value estimate by counsel on the component part was improper. Plaintiff's counsel argued that for the accident itself, 'it ws worth two thousand dollars * * * .' Upon objection, the figure was excluded and erased from the blackboard. For the operation itself the argument was put in the form of a question: 'Ask yourselves, is five hundred dollars inadequate or unfair * * *?' The Court sustained objection to this argument, commenting that it made no difference whether it was a statement or in the form of a question, and ruled that 'It is not founded upon any evidence and does not belong in argument.' At this juncture defendants' motion for a mistrial was made but denied, and counsel for the plaintiff was advised not to continue to discuss figures which were not based on evidence.

Plaintiff's counsel detailed on the blackboard the time of the operation (1 hour and 6 minutes); time of the general anesthesia (2 hours) and the number of hours in the hospital (53 hours). The plaintiff's counsel was also permitted by the Court to break down the plaintiff's life expectancy into 233,600 hours, and place this on the blackboard for consideration by the jury. It is apparent from the record that plaintiff's counsel was prohibited by the Court from placing a specific value for wither component parts of the injury or for pain and suffering subdivided into hours and minutes. The plaintiff claims that this was an improper limitation on the right of her counsel to argue to the jury and warrants a new trial.

The leading case prohibiting a mathematical formula for assessing damages for pain and suffering is Botta v. Brunner, 26 N.J. 82, 138 A.2d 713, 60 A.L.R.2d 1331 (1958). Although this case has been described by a knowledgeable and articulate commentator as a restrictive and dubious decision which leaves '* * * the unassisted jury wrapped in a Grand Banks fog' (28 NACCA L.J. 281 (1962), and represents a minority view, it continues to gain adherents. Affett v. Milwaukee & Suburban Transit Corp., 11 Wis.2d 604, 106 N.W.2d 274 (1960); Faught v. Washam, Mo., 329 S.W.2d 588 (1959); Certified T. V. & Appliances Co. v. Harrington, 201 Va. 109, 109 S.E.2d 126 (1959); Crum v. Ward, W.Va., 122 S.E.2d 18 (1961); Caley v. Manicke, 24 Ill.2d 390, 182 N.E.2d 206 (1962); Jensen v. Elgin, Joliet, etc., Railway Co., 24 Ill.2d 383, 182 N.E.2d 211 (1962); Harper v. Bolton, S.C., 124 S.E.2d 54 (1962); Henne v. Balick, 1 Storey 369, 51 Del. 369, 146 A.2d 394 (1958); King v. Railway Express Agency, N.D., 107 N.W.2d 509 (1961).

We start with the basic assumption that pain and suffering is a very material element of damages in tort cases and this is so despite theoretical and logical objections that may be advanced against awarding such damages. Morris, Liability for Pain an Suffering, 59 Colum.L.Rev. 476. It is still true today as it has been in the past that there is no exact or mathematical rule by which such damages can be determined. Doody v. Boston & M. Railroad, 77 N.H. 161, 89 A. 487. 'Translating pain and anguish into dollars can, at best, be only an arbitrary allowance, and not a process of measurement, and consequently the judge can, in his instructions, give the jury no standard to go by; he can only tell them to allow such amount as in their discretion they may consider reasonable. Rules devised for measuring pecuniary losses do not fit here.' McCormick, Damages, s. 88, p. 318. See also, 2 Harper & James, The Law of Torts, 1322.

Those jurisdictions which permit counsel to use a mathematical formula or to state specific amounts for periods of pain and suffering claim that this type of argument is an aid to the jury, will not mislead them and is a logical method to clarify the difficult problem of granting a total verdict. Yates v. Wenk, 363 Mich. 311, 109 N.W.2d 828 (1961); Ratner v. Arrington, (Fla.App.1959) 111 So.2d 82. If these conclusions were thought to be sound we would adopt them. However, candor compels us to express a contrary view. The chief vice of the formula is that it is an attempt by counsel to distort and exaggerate the measurement of what is immeasurable by such a mathematical method. The second vice of this type of argument in our opinion is that it will more often mislead a jury than aid them, since the jury are given an illusion of certainty by the use of figures which are not and cannot be substantiated by evidence. 'The absurdity of a mathematical formula is demonstrated by applying it to its logical conclusion. If a day may be used as a unit of time in measuring pain and suffering, there is no logical reason why an hour or a minute or a second could not be used, or perhaps even a heart beat since we live from heart beat to heart beat. If one cent were used for each second of pain, this would amount to $3.60 [$36.00] per hour, to $86.40 [$864.00] per twenty-four-hour day, and to $31,536 [$315,360.00] per year. The absurdity of such a result may be apparent, yet a penny a second for pain and suffering might not sound unreasonable.' Affett v. Milwaukee & Suburban Transport Corp., 11 Wis.2d 604, 614, 106 N.W.2d 274, 280 (1960)...

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    ...Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. (1962) 190 Kan. 261, 374 P.2d 53; Faught v. Washam (Mo.1959) 329 S.W.2d 588; Duguay v. Gelinas (1962) 104 N.H. 182, 182 A.2d 451; Botta v. Brunner (1958) supra, 26 N.J. 82, 138 A.2d 713, 60 A.L.R.2d 1331; Certified T.V. and Appliance Company v. Harr......
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    ...N.D., 1961, 107 N.W.2d 509; New Hampshire: Chamberlain v. Palmer Lumber, Inc., 1962, 104 N.H. 221, 183 A. 2d 906; Duguay v. Gelinas, 1962, 104 N. H. 182, 182 A.2d 451; Plume v. Couillard, 1962, 104 N.H. 267, 184 A.2d 452; New Jersey: Botta v. Brunner, 1958, 26 N.J. 82, 138 A.2d 713, 60 A.L.......
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