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Injured soccer player’s choice: reduced award or new trial

By: Laura Brown//November 6, 2023//

Injured soccer player’s choice: reduced award or new trial

By: Laura Brown//November 6, 2023//

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In 2022, a federal jury awarded Anuj Thapa a blockbuster $111 million due to alleged negligence by medical professionals. On Oct. 26, 2023, the U.S. District Court for Minnesota offered the plaintiff a choice between dramatically remitting the award or going through a new trial.

Thapa, originally from Nepal, was studying at St. Cloud State University on a student visa. In 2017, Thapa was playing soccer when he was tackled by another student. He was injured badly enough that he was transported to St. Cloud Hospital by ambulance.

After the hospital evaluated Thapa, it identified that he had a severe fracture. Thapa underwent surgery, after which he experienced extreme burning and numbing pain. Nevertheless, Thapa was discharged from the hospital.

The pain remained unbearable, so Thapa returned to the hospital less than a week later. A different physician performed another surgery on Thapa. During this surgery, the doctor discovered that Thapa’s leg muscle were grey in color and did not contract at all. The doctor diagnosed Thapa with acute compartment syndrome, which is a serious condition caused by excess bleeding and swelling. Depending on its severity, the condition can cause blood flow issues, as well as muscle and nerve damage.

Thapa has endured a dozen surgeries. Consequently, he has permanent, severe, and disabling damage to his left leg.

Thapa filed suit against St. Cloud Orthopedic Associates in Sartell, arguing that defendants departed from the accepted standards of medical practice when they missed his diagnosis and discharged him from the hospital. He maintained that, if the acute compartment syndrome had been diagnosed and promptly treated, he would not be disabled.

The jury found that the hospital’s negligent care of Thapa’s leg resulted in permanent disability and awarded Thapa $111,251.559.22. Of that amount, $100 million was given for future pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment, and emotional distress. Thapa also received $758,486 for future medical expenses, as well as $10 million in past pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment, and emotional distress.

This award was the largest pain and suffering award in a medical malpractice or personal injury case in Minnesota history—by a large margin—as well as the largest damages award in Minnesota history. Additionally, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals never upheld an award that was remotely close to one this size. The jury award in Thapa’s case was more than five times greater than the largest damages award that the plaintiff cited from cases within the circuit.

The defendant moved for a new trial on liability and damages, claiming that the jury’s verdict was “shockingly excessive and tainted by passion and prejudice.” At minimum, defendant argued, the verdict warranted a substantial remittitur. The maximum non-economic damages award, citing comparable cases and the evidence presented at trial, should not have exceeded $1 million, according to the defendant.

While the court disagreed with the defendant that the verdict’s size alone demonstrated that it was motived by “passion and prejudice,” it did agree with the defendant that the award was “shockingly excessive.”

“Such an award—so far above an award based in economic reality—is grossly excessive and cannot stand as a matter of law,” the court wrote. The court concluded that $10 million is the maximum amount of non-economic damages that the jury could have reasonable awarded in this case. Although it acknowledged that the amount was a significant decrease from the jury’s award, it maintained that the amount was still larger than most non-economic damages awards that the court identified as comparable.

“The evidence introduced at trial does not justify such an astronomical award,” the court stated. “While Plaintiff has undergone a dozen painful surgeries to repair his leg, has significant scarring, a noticeable gait-altering limp, and experiences pain and mobility and balance issues, he is able to walk and take care of his daily needs.”

“The Court does not intend to minimize Plaintiff’s injuries or experience,” the court added. “The testimony and evidence presented at trial, however, does not support an unprecedented award of $110 million in non-economic damages.”

While the court denied the defendants’ motion for a new trial, the court conditionally granted a new trial on the amount of non-economic damages and offered Thapa the option of remitting the award to $10 million.

Thapa now has the choice to accept the remittitur to $10 million in non-economic damages or retry the issue of non-economic damages. He must decide by Nov. 28. If he accepts, Thapa would still receive the economic damages award of $1,251,559.22.

Brandon Thompson, a partner at Ciresi Conlin representing Thapa, stated, “We are still weighing our options in light of the Court’s ruling, and no decision has been made yet on how we will proceed.”

Counsel for defendants did not respond to request for comment.

“The astronomical amount of the non-economic award in this case is so far removed from economic realities that permitting it to stand would shake the foundations of confidence in the judicial system,” the court stated. “Excluding the accident of birth and games of chance with extraordinary probabilities, how many lifetimes would it take to earn, passively or actively, enough for a one-time lump sum of over $100 million dollars?”

“Laws ideally provide predictability,” the court averred. “In the context of this case, such a non-economic award can neither be reasonably anticipated nor insured for.”


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