A trial court order in response to an excessive damage award or verdict by a jury which gives the plaintiff the option to accept a reduced damage award or conviction, or the court may order a new trial. Latin for “to send back, to remit.” The purpose of remittitur is to give a trial court the ability, with the plaintiff’s consent, to correct an inequitable damage award or verdict without having to order a new trial.
While most commonly used in the civil context where the judgment involves monetary damages, remittitur may also occur in the criminal context to give the plaintiff the option to accept a lesser conviction or potentially face a new trial. For example, in Commonwealth v. Reavis, the Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed a remittitur to convict defendant of a lesser crime, since the weight of the evidence, although sufficient to support the greater crime, pointed to the lesser crime.
Specific criteria must be met before a court can grant a remittitur. In the foundational Ohio Supreme Court case, Chester Park v. Schulte, the Court laid out four criteria that must be met before a court can grant remittitur: (1) unliquidated damages are assessed by a jury, (2) the verdict is not influenced by passion or prejudice, (3) the award is excessive, and (4) the plaintiff agrees to the reduction in damages. Many jurisdictions follow these or similar considerations when ruling on whether to grant a remittitur. Furthermore, some jurisdictions adhere to the “Wisconsin rule,” which allows plaintiffs to appeal remittiturs. First enunciated in by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Plesko v. Milwaukee, under the Wisconsin rule, a plaintiff who accepts a remittitur may appeal the trial court's determination of the damage issue if the opposing party appeals any issue. If the reviewing court finds no error as to the determination of damages, the plaintiff's prior acceptance of judgment for the reduced amount will be affirmed unless the result of the principal appeal requires otherwise. Oregon, however, denies the availability of remittitur completely, as the Oregon Supreme Court in State ex rel. Young v. Crookham found that it violated the Oregon Constitution.
[Last updated in April of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]