verdict form

The Simple, All-or-Nothing Verdict Form

Posted by David Adelstein on October 06, 2016
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on The Simple, All-or-Nothing Verdict Form

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Attention should be given to the verdict form you want the jury to fill out after listening to and seeing the evidence presented in the case.   This verdict form dictates how the jury decides the facts in your case in the context of the theme of your case and the jury instructions. Needless to say, the verdict form is very, very important!

There are times when a party may want a simple, all-or-nothing verdict form.  A party may like this (such as the plaintiff) versus a special interrogatory form that contains numerous potentially confusing questions the jury is asked to answer. For example, an all-or-nothing verdict form may simply ask the jury as the first question whether the defendant breached the contract. If the jury answers yes, then they need to answer the second question which would be the amount of damages that should be awarded to the plaintiff as a consequence of the defendant’s breach of the contract. On the other hand, if the jury answers no to the first question, they should not answer any more questions as the jury’s verdict is in favor of the defendant.

In Finkel v. Batista, 41 Fla.L.Weekly D2279b (Fla. 3d DCA 2016), the liability portion of the trial was bifurcated from the damages portion. The case dealt with a car accident that resulted in personal injury. During the liability portion, the jury found the defendant 100% liable for the car accident. During the damages trial, the parties agreed on a verdict form that read:

  1. Evan Finkel [Defendant] was negligent. Was such negligence the legal cause of loss, injury or damage to the Plaintiff, Yarielsi Batista?

Yes_______ No_______

If you answered “NO” to Question 1, your verdict is for the Defendant, Evan Finkel and you should not proceed further except to date and sign this verdict form and return it to the courtroom. If you answered “YES” to Question 1, please answer Questions 2 and 3.

The jury answered “No” to this first question finding for the defendant; no damages were awarded to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff appealed arguing that she should be entitled to damages for medical expenses she incurred. The trial court agreed and ordered a new jury trial.   The appellate court reversed with directions to reinstate the jury’s verdict:

[T]he plaintiffs here did not object to the verdict form that invited the jury to return a verdict on an “all-or-nothing” basis. The jury answered the first question presented to it in the negative, finding that the accident was not the legal cause of loss, injury, or damage to Ms. Batista [plaintiff]. Consistent with verdict form’s instructions, the jury answered no further questions and awarded no damages. It is well-settled law that “the jury cannot be faulted for doing exactly what it was instructed to do” in these circumstances. For these reasons, we reverse the order granting a new trial.

Finkel, supra (internal citation omitted).

 

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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