verdict

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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Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

Posted by David Adelstein on May 21, 2016
Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

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After the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict. (Check out this article too for more on directed verdicts.)  The court denies the motion for a directed verdict. You put on your defense and then the case is submitted to the jury. The jury returns a verdict in favor the plaintiff. You then move to set aside the verdict (also called a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict). The trial court denies your motion and enters final judgment consistent with the jury’s verdict. You appeal the trial court’s denial of the motion for directed verdict / motion to set aside the verdict.

An appellate court must review a trial court’s determination on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict de novo and “evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing every reasonable inference flowing from the evidence in the non-moving party’s favor.” Miami-Dade Cnty. v. Eghbal, 54 So. 3d 525, 526 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011). Additionally, we must sustain a jury verdict if it is supported by competent substantial evidence. Hancock v. Schorr, 941 So. 2d 409, 412 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

Frieri v. Capital Investment Services, Inc. , 41 Fla.L.Weekly D1189a (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).  

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence in favor of the non-moving plaintiff (part that did not move for the directed verdict) drawing reasonable inferences in its favor. If there was competent substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict, the court will affirm the judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Now what if after the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict and the trial court grants the directed verdict in your favor and against the plaintiff.   The plaintiff appeals the trial court’s granting of your motion for directed verdict.

While the standard of review for the trial court’s entry of a directed verdict is de novo, an appellate court “can affirm a directed verdict only where no proper view of the evidence could sustain a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.Banco Espirito Santo Int’l, Ltd. v. BDO Int’l, B.V., 979 So. 2d 1030, 1032 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008) (quoting Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So. 2d 315, 329 (Fla. 2001)).

Frieri, supra.

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence to see if no proper view of the evidence, and all inferences drawn from the evidence, could support a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Thus, if the plaintiff fails to introduce any evidence substantiating its claims (or a claim) against the defendant (i.e.,to sustain a verdict in favor of the plaintiff), then the appellate court will affirm the directed verdict.

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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Election of Remedies PRIOR to Final Judgment

Posted by David Adelstein on April 18, 2016
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Election of Remedies PRIOR to Final Judgment

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Oftentimes, a plaintiff will plead alternative claims or theories of liability against a defendant(s).   Pleading in the alternative is allowed under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.110(g).   The plaintiff is entitled to elect–between two mutually exclusive (alternative) remedies–the remedy it prefers any time prior to the entry of final judgment. See Liddle v. A.F. Dozer, Inc., 777 So.2d 421 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); see also  Burr v. Norris, 667 So.2d 424, 426 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996) (“Plaintiffs are also allowed to plead inconsistent or alternative actions and need only elect remedies before final judgment.”) This allows the plaintiff to present alternative and mutually exclusive theories to the jury selecting the remedy it prefers prior to the court entering final judgment based on the jury’s verdict. This is certainly a benefit to a plaintiff that is not punished from presenting such alternative theories–the plaintiff is just precluded from the windfall of a double recovery.

For example, in Liddle, the plaintiff moved to foreclose a construction lien and, alternatively, moved to foreclose an equitable lien based on unjust enrichment. The plaintiff could not recover on both because if it did it would allow the plaintiff to engage in a double recovery. After the close of all of the evidence in the jury trial and prior to closing argument, the defendants wanted the court to order the plaintiff to elect a remedy: either foreclosing the construction lien or the equitable lien. The trial court did not rule and ultimately entered judgment against the defendants on both theories of recovery.   The Fourth District held:

Here, Dozer [plaintiff] sought the same relief under two mutually exclusive remedies. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Dozer on its claim to foreclose its statutory mechanic’s lien and entered judgment in favor of Dozer on its claim for foreclosure on an equitable lien based on unjust enrichment for the same amount. Since Dozer proceeded under mutually exclusive remedies and the final judgment allows for double recovery under both theories, the trial court erred in not requiring an election of remedies prior to entry of the final judgment. Because Dozer is in a “win/win” situation under either theory, we affirm Dozer’s entitlement to recovery but remand for election of a remedy and entry of final judgment solely upon that remedy.

Liddle, 777 So.2d at 422.

In another example, Levitt-ANSCA Towne Park Partnership v. Smith & Co., Inc., 873 So.2d 392 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), a contractor sued a developer for breach of contract and unjust enrichment for work the contractor performed outside the contract. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the contractor that included damages under both theories. The Fourth District held:

In this case, however, the contractor sought both damages on the contract and an additional sum for work performed outside the contract under the theory of quantum meruit. We hold that because the contract provided the method for obtaining payment for additional work, the contractor could not seek equitable relief for additional work at the same time it sought legal relief in the form of lost profits for the breach. Therefore, on remand the contractor must elect between legal damages on the contract and equitable relief under quantum meruit.

Levitt-ANSCA Towne Partnership, 873 So.2d at 395 (internal citations 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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The Nonparty Fabre Defendant

Posted by David Adelstein on February 20, 2016
Burden of Proof, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on The Nonparty Fabre Defendant

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I want to discuss the concept of a “Fabre defendant.” This is an important concept in negligence cases, particularly personal injury and property damage cases.

A ‘Fabre defendant’ is a nonparty defendant whom a party defendant asserts is wholly of partially responsible for the negligence alleged [by the plaintiff].Salazar v. Helicopter Structural & Maintenance, Inc., 986 So.2d 620, n.1 (Fla.2d DCA 2007).

As further explained in Florida Statute s. 768.81(3):

(3) Apportionment of damages.–In a negligence action, the court shall enter judgment against each party liable on the basis of such party’s percentage of fault and not on the basis of the doctrine of joint and several liability.

(a) 1. In order to allocate any or all fault to a nonparty, a defendant must affirmatively plead the fault of a nonparty and, absent a showing of good cause, identify the nonparty, if known, or describe the nonparty as specifically as practicable, either by motion or in the initial responsive pleading when defenses are first presented, subject to amendment any time before trial in accordance with the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

2. In order to allocate any or all fault to a nonparty and include the named or unnamed nonparty on the verdict form for purposes of apportioning damages, a defendant must prove at trial, by a preponderance of the evidence, the fault of the nonparty in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

This means in order to allocate fault to a Fabre defendant (a nonparty) the named defendant must a) plead the fault of the nonparty and identify the nonparty in an affirmative defense, and, importantly b) prove at trial by a preponderance of evidence the fault of the nonparty (the Fabre defendant) causing plaintiff’s injuries in order to get that nonparty on the verdict form for purposes of having the jury allocate damages to the nonparty.  

Simply identifying the nonparty in an affirmative defense is not good enough. The burden of proof is on the named defendant to prove the nonparty’s negligence at trial to get that nonparty on the verdict form as a Fabre defendant. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Grossman, 96 So.3d 917, 919-20 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (nonparty Fabre defendant may not be included on verdict form until defendant proves nonparty’s negligence at trial) . However, a named defendant cannot rely on the vicarious liability of a nonparty to prove that nonparty’s fault in order to get that nonparty identified on the verdict form. See Nash v. Wells Fargo Guard Services, Inc., 678 So.2d 1262, 1263 (Fla. 1996) (security company could not name hospital that hired it as Fabre defendant since hospital would only be vicariously liable based on the negligence of the security company).

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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Moving for a Directed Verdict and, then, a Motion to Set Aside the Verdict

Posted by David Adelstein on January 15, 2015
Appeal, Evidence / Comments Off on Moving for a Directed Verdict and, then, a Motion to Set Aside the Verdict

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Moving for a directed verdict is a standard procedure in a jury trial.  Simply put, after the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief (evidence supporting its claims against the defendant), the defendant moves for a directed verdict stating that even assuming all of the evidence is true and undisputed, and all inferences relating to that evidence favor the plaintiff, the plaintiff failed to prove its case as a matter of law and a jury cannot reasonably enter a verdict in favor of the plaintiff based on that evidence. See Wald v. Grainger, 64 So.3d 1201 (Fla. 2011); see also Etheredge v. Walt Disney World Co., 999 So.2d 669, 672 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (“In other words, a motion for directed verdict shall be granted only if no view of the evidence could support a verdict for the non-moving party and that the trial court therefore determines that no reasonable jury could render a verdict for that party.”)     

This is best explained by the Florida Supreme Court:

“A party moving for a directed verdict admits the truth of all facts in evidence and every reasonable conclusion or inference which can be drawn from such evidence favorable to the non-moving party. A directed verdict is proper when the evidence and all inferences from the evidence, considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party [plaintiff or party putting on evidence in support of their claim], support the movant’s case as a matter of law and there is no evidence to rebut it.

 Wald, 64 So.3d at 1205 (Fla. 2011) (citations omitted).

A defendant may move for a directed verdict after the plaintiff puts on all of its evidence.  A plaintiff can move for a directed verdict after the defendant puts on all of its evidence as to an affirmative defense.  And, a plaintiff (referred to as a counter-defendant) can move for a directed verdict after the defendant (referred to as a counter-plaintiff) puts on all of its evidence if the defendant has counter-sued the plaintiff.

A party moves for a directed verdict in accordance with Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure.  See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480.   If the motion for directed verdict is denied, which is not uncommon, the trial continues.   But, and this is a very, very important but:

“When a motion for a directed verdict is denied or for any reason is not granted, the court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion. Within 15 days after the return of a verdict, a party who has timely moved for a directed verdict may serve a motion to set aside the verdict and any judgment entered thereon and to enter judgment in accordance with the motion for a directed verdict [also commonly referred to as a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict]. If a verdict was not returned, a party who has timely moved for a directed verdict may serve a motion for judgment in accordance with the motion for a directed verdict within 15 days after discharge of the jury.” 

Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480(b).  This means that if a party moves for a directed verdict and that motion is denied, the trial continues and will be submitted to the jury to render a verdict.  If the verdict favors a party (e.g., plaintiff), the opposing party (e.g., defendant) within 15 days can file a motion for the court to set aside the verdict and enter a judgment in accordance with the earlier motion for directed verdict.   This is important because if a party does NOT timely move for the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the directed verdict, the party will NOT have properly preserved the directed verdict for appealSee Murray v. State, 27 So.3d 781 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (defense failed to timely preserve directed verdict for appeal because it did not move the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the directed verdict).

(Notably, it used to be that a party needed to renew a motion for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the trial—close of all of the evidence.  Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.480 was amended in 2010 removing the requirement to renew a motion for directed verdict at the close of all of the evidence in order to preserve the right to file a motion to set aside the verdict.  Now, a party just needs to timely move for a directed verdict at the close of the opposing party’s evidence and then timely file the motion to set aside the verdict.)

Oftentimes, a party at the conclusion of a trial will move the court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict or, alternatively, move the court for a new trialSee Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.480(b).   Hence, if the court is considering granting a motion for directed verdict, it may deny the motion to see how the jury decides the evidence.  If the jury still finds in favor of a party, the judge can (if a party timely moves for a judgment not withstanding the verdict) still enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

The standard of appellate review if a trial court grants a directed verdict is de novoSee Merritt v. OLMHP, LLC, 112 So.3d 559 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013).   This is the same standard of review if a trial court grants a motion to set aside the verdict and enter judgment in accordance with the motion for direct verdict (again, also called a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict).  See Specialty Marine & Industrial Supplies, Inc. v. Venus, 66 So.3d 306 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

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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