Trial Court / Judge Cannot Act as the Seventh Juror
The trial judge cannot act as the seventh juror. What does this mean? Read on…
In a medical malpractice action, a plaintiff sued two doctors and a hospital (based on vicarious liability). Before closing arguments and after the defense rested, the plaintiff moved for a directed verdict. The trial court reserved ruling and the case went to the jury where the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. After the verdict, the plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (referred to as a “JNOV”). The trial court granted the JNOV as to one of the doctors finding that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for that doctor and unilaterally determined that the plaintiff suffered $1.125 Million in damages. See Carrasquillo v. Metzler, Jr., 49 Fla.L.Weekly D91a (Fla. 4th DCA 2024).
Regarding the granting of a JNOV in favor of the plaintiff:
“In reviewing an order granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (‘JNOV’), an appellate court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in favor of the non-movant, and construe every reasonable conclusion which may be drawn from the evidence in favor of the non-movant.” “A JNOV is appropriate only in situations where there is no evidence upon which a jury could rely in finding for the non-movant.”
See Carrasquillo, supra (internal citations omitted).
Here, the trial court found that the evidence presented at trial including the doctors’ and expert’s testimony “created conflicts in evidence which only the jury, and not the trial court, could resolve.” See Carrasquillo, supra. Thus, the trial court committed reversible error in granting the JNOV because the trial court “fail[ed] to resolve the conflicts in the evidence in favor of the non-moving party [doctors]” and ultimately acted as the seventh juror by substituting his or her judgment for that of the jury. Id. In other words, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s granting of the JNOV in favor of the plaintiff against the doctor.
But here is the kicker. Even if the appellate court were to affirm the trial court’s granting of the JNOV in favor of the plaintiff, the jury still rendered a verdict of $0. In this regard, the appellate court stated, “we are compelled to clarify that even if we were to affirm the final judgment granting the JNOV as to [the doctor], under no circumstances could the trial judge unilaterally determine and award damages. Where the jury has considered the evidence and awarded zero damages, it is not the trial judge’s role to reweigh the evidence and substitute his or her judgment in determining damages.” See Carrasquillo, supra.
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