special interrogatory verdict

Jury Trial Considerations: Directed Verdict and the Verdict Form

Posted by David Adelstein on June 27, 2015
Appeal, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Jury Trial Considerations: Directed Verdict and the Verdict Form

images-1

Previously, I discussed a motion for directed verdict and, then, a motion to set aside a jury’s verdict. This is an important procedural vehicle to know because a party opposing a claim generally always moves for a direct verdict. In some instances, the court reserves ruling on the directed verdict to see how the jury decides the case. If the jury enters a verdict in favor of the party moving for a directed verdict (e.g., the defendant) then the court does not need to rule on the motion for directed verdict (it becomes moot).

Recently, I wrote an article about a case involving a jury trial as to the enforcement of an oral contract. During the jury trial, the party opposing the oral contract’s enforcement–the defendant–moved for a directed verdict. The trial court reserved ruling on the motion for directed verdict to see how the jury would decide the case. The jury entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Based on the verdict, however, the trial court granted the motion for directed verdict and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling and the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and directed judgment in favor of the plaintiff consistent with the jury’s verdict.

The First District explained as it pertains to directed verdicts:

When a trial court overrides a jury’s verdict and directs entry of judgment for the non-prevailing party, our review is de novo, meaning we review the record to determine whether any view of the evidence supports the jury’s verdict…For this reason, if there are conflicts in the evidence or different reasonable inferences may be drawn from it, then the issue is a factual one that should be submitted to the jury and not be decided by the trial court as a matter of law.”

Loper v. Weather Shield Manufacturing, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D1492a (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

The case also references a special interrogatory verdict form which is a verdict form that asks the jury to answer specific questions relating to a plaintiff’s claim against a defendant and a defendant’s affirmative defenses.   In this case, a special interrogatory verdict form was submitted to the jury with carefully crafted questions. The jury answered questions on the verdict form benefitting the plaintiff that led to its verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

As an example of carefully crafted questions on a special interrogatory verdict form, the jury answered yes to the following questions pertaining to an owner’s breach of an oral contact claim against a manufacturer (again, check out the article for more facts regarding the case):

  1. Did Michael Loper [owner] and Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc. [manufacturer], enter into an oral agreement regarding the windows at the Loper home?
  1. Did at least one of the parties (Michael Loper and/or Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.) fully perform his or its responsibilities under the oral agreement and do so within one year of that agreement?
  1. Did Michael Loper: (a) orally agree not to file a lawsuit against Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc., in exchange for replacement of all defective windows and a new ten-year warranty; (b) reasonably rely in good faith on Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc., to reduce this oral agreement to writing; and (c) reasonably rely on Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.’s words and action to change his position to his detriment?
  1. Did Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc. breach the oral agreement?
  1. Did Michael Loper sustain damages as a result of Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc.’s breach of the oral contract?

Loper, supra.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , , ,

Inconsistent Verdict Form – Make Sure to Timely Object

Posted by David Adelstein on May 15, 2015
Appeal / Comments Off on Inconsistent Verdict Form – Make Sure to Timely Object

images

The verdict form is a very important aspect of civil jury trials. This is the form the jury fills out during deliberation to determine liability and damages. Previously, I explained the difference between a general verdict form and a special interrogatory verdict form and the importance of timely objections to the verdict form.  Be sure to consider and review (and, object, if need be) the type of verdict form submitted to the jury as well as the verdict form filled out by the jury (especially with a special interrogatory verdict form).

With a special interrogatory verdict form, there is the possibility that the jury may render a fundamentally inconsistent verdict. If this is the case, it is imperative to timely object to the inconsistency BEFORE the jury is discharged so that the jury, and not the court, can resolve the inconsistency. The reason is that an appellate court is not permitted to substitute its judgment for the jury; thus, if there is no timely objection to an inconsistency with the verdict before the jury is discharged, such inconsistency is waived. See Diana Coba v. Tricam Industries, Inc., 40 Fla. L. Weekly S257a (Fla. 2015).

The Florida Supreme Court explained:

Where the findings of a jury’s verdict in two or more respects are findings with respect to a definite fact material to the judgment such that both cannot be true and therefore stand at the same time, they are in fatal conflict. To preserve the issue of an inconsistent verdict, the party claiming inconsistency must raise the issue before the jury is discharged and ask the trial court to reinstruct the jury and send it back for further deliberations.

Diana Coba, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).

For example, Diana Coba was a products liability action involving a tragic fall from a ladder with a special interrogatory verdict form. In answering the verdict form, the jury found that the defendant was negligent in the design of the ladder but also found that the ladder did not maintain a design defect. Well, isn’t this inconsistent? Yes! How could the defendant be negligent in the design of the ladder if the jury found that the ladder did not contain a design defect? The defendant, however, never timely objected to this inconsistency before the jury was discharged. Thereafter, the defendant argued that the verdict was inconsistent “because there could be no finding of a negligent design without finding that a design defect contributed to the fall, and the jury determined that there was no defect.” Diana Coba, supra. But, because the defendant did not timely object to this inconsistent verdict, the Florida Supreme Court held the inconsistent verdict was waived.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , ,

Verdict Forms (General or Special) and the Two-Issue Rule

Posted by David Adelstein on January 03, 2015
Appeal, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Verdict Forms (General or Special) and the Two-Issue Rule

Verdict Forms

I previously discussed the importance of jury instructions and the jury instruction conference.

Now, I want to discuss the importance of the verdict form. This is the form the jury fills out during its deliberation that identifies the associated liability and damages it determines.

There are 2 types of verdict forms used. A general verdict form is a relatively simple form that is easy to prepare and asks the jury to determine whether it believes the defendant is liable and, if so, the damages the defendant owes the plaintiff.   This is the type of form a plaintiff oftentimes wants. A special interrogatory verdict form, on the other hand, is a verdict form that requires the jury to answer numerous Yes and No questions that forms the basis of how the jury reaches the liability and damages it determines. The special interrogatory verdict form, unlike the general verdict form, has the jury make factual findings by answering numerous questions relating to the theories of liability and the corresponding affirmative defenses. Oftentimes, a defendant prefers a special interrogatory verdict form.

If a party objects to a special interrogatory verdict form or certain questions within the verdict form, it is important for them to put that objection on the record. Likewise, if a party objects to a general verdict form, it is important for them to put that objection on the record and submit a special interrogatory verdict form. See Whitman v. Castlewood Intern. Corp., 383 So.2d 618 (Fla. 1980). 

The trial judge has discretion to determine the type of verdict form that is submitted to the jury. See Walsh v. Diaz, 409 So.2d 1186 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982). Thus, the standard of appellate review is abuse of discretion and absent prejudicial or reversible error, the verdict form given to the jurors will not overturn the verdict. See Triana v. Fl-Shock, Inc., 763 So.2d 454 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000).  Notably, in a complex civil case with multiple defendants and multiple theories of liabilities against the defendants, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held it was reversible error to submit a general verdict form to the jury when the defendants objected to the use of that form. See Derrick v. Clemons, 576 So.2d 939 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991).

There is also an important appellate doctrine known as the two-issue rule when it comes to verdict forms that finds, “where there is no proper objection to the use of a general verdict, reversal is improper where no error is found as to one of two issues submitted to the jury [one of which could be determinative of the case] on the basis that the appellant is unable to establish that he has been prejudiced.” See Whitman, 383 So.2d at 619.   The reason this rule applies is because if more than one issue is submitted to the jury and either issue could be determinative of the case, the general verdict form makes it impossible for an appellate court to determine which issue formed the basis of the jury’s verdict. See Food Lion, L.L.C. v. Henderson, 895 So.2d 1207 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).

For example, let’s say an injured plaintiff sued a defendant under two theories of liability: (1) negligent failure to maintain premises in a reasonably safe manner and (2) negligent failure to warn the plaintiff of a dangerous condition. The jury returned a general verdict form in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant did not object to the use of a general verdict form that simply asked, “was there negligence on the part of the defendant that was the legal cause of injuries to the plaintiff.”   The general verdict form, unlike a special interrogatory verdict form, did not go into detail as to which theory of liability the negligence (that the jury determined) was grounded on. The defendant appealed as to one theory of liability, but under the two-issue rule, the appellate court had to affirm because it was uncertain which theory of liability the jury based its verdict on and there was no error raised on appeal with the other theory of liability. See Food Lion, 895 So.2d 1207.

In another example, let’s say a plaintiff sued a defendant for breach of contract. The case proceeded to trial and a general verdict form was agreed on by the parties and used. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed and argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on one of the defendant’s affirmative defenses. But, because of the general verdict form, it was uncertain whether the jury ruled in favor of the defendant on this defense or other affirmative defenses raised by the defendant for the jury’s consideration (that would be determinative of the case). Thus, under the two-issue rule, there could be no reversal where “no error is found as to one of the issues that can independently support the jury’s verdict.” See Barth v. Khubani, 748 So.2d 260 (Fla. 1999).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , , ,

Contact Me Now

Prove YOUR Case!

Contact:

David Adelstein ♦

(954) 361-4720 ♦

dadelstein@gmail.com