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Prince George’s Co. judge reduces $1.8M jury verdict at defense request

An Olney man who received a $1.8 million verdict in a lawsuit stemming from a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 70 will have to accept a drastically reduced award or opt for a new trial on damages after a Prince George’s County judge found the jury’s award “shocked the conscience.”

Jeremy R. Iocozzia was 19 years old in November 2011 when he was driving one of six vehicles involved in a crash as police stopped traffic on I-70 in Frederick County. Iocozzia was in the eastbound lanes when a van driven by Brett Lee Lease rear-ended another car and then struck Iocozzia’s car.

After a five-week trial in Prince George’s County, a jury in June awarded Iocozzia almost $1 million for past and future medical expenses and lost wages and an additional $900,000 in noneconomic damages.

The defense subsequently filed post-trial motions, including a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and motion for a new trial.

Prince George’s County Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. heard arguments on July 15, and on Wednesday he granted the motion for a new trial unless Iocozzia remits the portion of the verdict that exceeds $350,000. The reduced amount would include $150,000 for medical costs and $200,000 for pain and suffering.

“We obviously agree with the judge that the verdict did shock the conscience,” said Ugo Colella, Lease’s attorney. “We believe the judge showed great courage in fixing what we believe was a great miscarriage of justice.”

Colella, of Duane Morris LLP in Washington, said Lease is pleased with the judge’s decision and “wants to get on with his life.”

In reducing Iocozzia’s award, Nichols cited lower awards given to other plaintiffs who sued Lease over the accident, including one wrongful death claim. The judge found both the economic damage awards and pain and suffering awards excessive.

“The medical costs awarded by the jury were grossly excessive and without factual or legal basis in light of the evidence presented at trial,” Nichols said.

Iocozzia had a preexisting back injury and did not prove the accident exacerbated it, according to Nichols, and his claims of lost past and future wages were not supported by the evidence. The judge found Iocozzia’a grades, lack of higher education pursuits and unemployment justify reducing the award.

“While this Court respectfully encourages Mr. Iocozzia in all of his future commercial and educational endeavors, no evidence was presented to award Mr. Iocozzia any amount for lost past or future wages,” Nichols said.

Iocozzia’s attorney, Jonathan Scott Smith, said Thursday he is reviewing the judge’s decision and considering his options but declined further comment.

Questions on expert

Nichols rejected the defense motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which argued the jury should not have heard evidence Iocozzia sustained a traumatic brain injury.

The motion contends the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Richard A. Lanham Jr., used scientific opinions not generally accepted and should have been the subject of a Frye-Reed hearing.

Lanham testified he interviewed Iocozzia and his family, reviewed crash reports and medical records and conducted psychological tests.

The tests conducted were generally accepted, according to Nichols, but the defendants argued Lanham’s opinions were not. Nichols found the conclusions reached by the expert were reasonable and did not require a Frye-Reed hearing.

The case is Jeremy R. Iocozzia v. Brett Lee Lease, et al., CAL14-14496.


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