Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 12:09 AM

COA: Decision Upholding Punitive Damages Award Requires Written Rationale; No Award of Costs for Expert Witness Prep

Today the COA held that a trial court's decision upholding an award for punitive damages must include the reasons for the same, and that the trial court improperly awarded costs for expert witness preparation time. The case is Springs v. City of Charlotte.

Springs brought a negligence suit against the city and other defendants related to a car accident in which she was rear-ended by a city bus. The COA first held that the trial court should have issued a written opinion spelling out its reasons for denying Defendants' motion for JNOV on the jury's punitive damages award, as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-50. The COA remanded the case to the trial court for entry of a written setting out its reasons for upholding the punitive damages
award.

The COA also gave the trial court another issue to consider on remand - reassessment of its award of costs related to Plaintiff's expert witnesses. The COA first reviewed statutes that give the trial court authority to award costs: N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-305(d)(11) provides that costs may be awarded for the actual time an expert spends testifying, and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-314(b) allows the trial court discretion to award fees for an expert witness' time in attendance at trial even when not testifying, as well as the expert's travel expenses. The COA concluded that the trial court erred in awarding costs for expert witness preparation time because there is no express statutory authorization for such costs.

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