Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Jury Comes Back with $20,000 Verdict After First Handing Down Zero Verdict

Here is a case that highlights the uncertainty associated with sending a jury back out to deliberate further after they have entered a zero ($0) in an admitted liability case.

In the case of Vella v. Hopkins, No. 16-S-1314 (C.P. Adams Co. Aug. 12, 2019 Campbell, J.), the court denied a Plaintiff’s Motion for a New Trial after finding that the jury did not ignore the court’s jury instructions and that the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence.

This matter arose out of a motor vehicle accident. At trial, the Defendant admitted liability such that the only issue at trial was on damages. The court also noted that, although medical experts for both the Plaintiff and the Defendant agreed that the Plaintiff had sustained some level of injury, the experts disagreed on the extent of injury.

The jury initially returned a verdict of zero ($0) for all damages alleged.

The court ordered the jury to return to its deliberations because the parties had stipulated that the Defendant was at fault for causing the accident and, in the eyes of the court, the jury had to award at least some damages.

After a further short deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff for Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000.00). The verdict included damages for past, present, and future pain and suffering but did not provide any award for loss of earning capacity or disfigurement.

In a post-trial motion, the Plaintiff sought a new trial on damages under an argument that the jury had ignored the court’s instructions and that the final verdict was so low that it was against the weight of the evidence. The Plaintiff argued, in part, that the jury did not carefully consider damages the second time around during deliberations because it spent no more than fifteen (15) minutes before returning with its $20,000.00 verdict.

The court held that the length of time that the jury spent deliberating did not serve to nullify the award. The trial court also noted that it had polled the jurors after they returned from their final deliberations and that the required number of jurors were in agreement regarding the amount of damages.

The court otherwise found that the verdict did not shock one’s sense of justice and, therefore, the Plaintiffs claim that it was entitled to a new trial based upon the weight of the evidence was rejected. The court found that the verdict had a reasonable relationship to the evidence presented, particularly where the experts differed on the extent of injury.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

To review an article on the law of litigating a zero verdict, please click HERE.

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