Inconsistent Verdict Form – Make Sure to Timely Object
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.
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