Judge Reduces Jury Verdict Due to Defect in Plaintiff’s Complaint

Gentry Locke for the Defendant

City of Winchester Circuit Court

The City of Winchester circuit court has reduced a $125,000 jury verdict to $50,000 due to a defect in the plaintiff’s Complaint. The Complaint contained an ad damnum seeking the amount of damages sought. It specifically sought “not less than $50,000” in compensatory damages, “plus punitive damages.” The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $50,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages.

The defendant retained Gentry Locke after the jury verdict to handle post-trial motions. The defense moved the court to set aside the entire verdict or to reduce the verdict to conform to the only amount sought in the Complaint – $50,000. The defense argued that, under Virginia law, the ad damnum was defective because it did not put a ceiling on the maximum recovery for compensatory damages, and did not plead any amount for punitive damages.

Under Rule 3:2(c)(ii), a claim for damages in a complaint filed in a Virginia Circuit Court must specify an amount sought. That rule provides that “[e]very complaint requesting an award of money damages shall contain an ad damnum clause stating the amount of damages sought.” This rule applies to claims for compensatory and punitive damages. See Town & Country Properties v. Riggins, 249 Va. 387, 399-400 (1995) (the trial court erred in refusing to reduce the punitive damage award to conform to the ad damnum). Further, it is black letter law that a plaintiff may not recover more than he demands in his Complaint. Lee v. Spoden, 290 Va. 235, 253 (2015) (“plaintiff ought to know what are the damages he has sustained, and if he [claims] none, he cannot say that he has sustained any”).

The circuit court agreed with our defense. It ruled that the plaintiff could not recover more than it sued for, which was a total of $50,000 in damages. Therefore, the court reduced the jury verdict to $50,000 to conform the verdict to the Complaint, and entered judgment in this amount. The plaintiff did not appeal.

Status of the case:

Our client will pay less than half of what the jury awarded.

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