When can Jury Verdicts be Challenged or Overturned?

When can Jury Verdicts be Challenged or OverturnedA jury is all powerful, charged with the ability to make factual determinations at trial without question. What a jury says goes, and there is no questioning the jury’s decisions. Correct?

Well, not always. Certainly, the integrity of our system depends on respecting a jury’s decision. If anybody could come back after a trial and overturn what a jury does or decides, there would be no point in having a jury system. We all accept that sometimes juries get things right and sometimes they get things wrong, but this is our system of justice.

There are times when the ultimate decision of a jury in an injury trial can be questioned, and even overturned. These are rare situations, but they do happen. They usually involve either how the jury came to its decision, or whether the ultimate decision makes logical sense.

Compromise Verdicts

One such situation is with what is known as a compromise jury or verdict. Although compromise and “give and take” is a great policy for business or in other areas of real life, with jurors, it is not allowed. We do not want jurors negotiating to get to their resolution. Jurors are charged with making decisions based on what they believe the evidence at trial proved, not deciding as a function of negotiation with other jurors.

Compromise is natural and human, and it is not hard to imagine situations in which it happens. Imagine that you are part of a jury panel. You have been hearing a case for three or four days, and now it is time to debate the issues. You are tired, have been out of work during jury duty, and you miss your family. But the case has ended, and you have a job to do.

You go back into the jury room with the other jurors to come to a verdict. Everybody on the jury agrees on a verdict. All of you believe that there was no negligence, and you want to award the victim nothing. Except for one juror. That holdout juror is firm in his or her conviction that the defendant is, in fact, negligent, and that the victim should be awarded damages.

You are tired, so to appease this one holdout jury, you offer to give the victim a small, nominal or trivial amount, say $1,000. The holdout juror is not happy, but in that juror’s eyes, at least the injured victim is getting “something,” so the juror agrees. The verdict is entered for the victim for $1,000.

That result could be a compromise verdict because in fact, the verdict does not represent the truly held beliefs of each member of the jury panel. Most of the panel gave money when they did not want to, and the holdout voted for an award way less than what that juror felt the verdict should be.

Inconsistent Verdicts

Going hand in hand with compromise verdicts are inconsistent verdicts. Inconsistent verdicts are those that make no logical sense. Often, they are a product of compromise.

For example, a jury may say that a nursing home is negligent for injuries to a resident, but award no damages. Or, the jury may say that a victim has been injured, but award no pain and suffering, or no allowance for future medical expenses when injuries are catastrophic.

These decisions make no logical sense. A jury can say a defendant is not liable if it chooses. But in most cases, the jury cannot say a defendant is liable, but not make them pay any damages to an injured victim.

Sometimes verdicts are inconsistent because jurors just did not understand the jury instructions. Sometimes, they are the result of jurors intentionally agreeing to ignore jury instructions, mistakenly believing that if they all agree to use different rules, that it is OK to do so.

Other times, they are inconsistent because the jury compromised. For example, a juror may think a defendant has no liability, while the others do. To compromise, they agree to say the defendant is liable, but award no damages, to give the victim and fellow jurors a moral victory, while at the same time, avoiding making the defendant pay any money, thus satisfying the jurors who thought the defendant was not negligent.

Legal Inadequacy

These verdicts are often legally inadequate. Whenever a jury finds a defendant to be negligent, but awards no damages for future medical expenses or past or future pain and suffering, a victim can argue that the verdict is inadequate and inconsistent.

Logic may tell you that while a compromise verdict may be inconsistent, a verdict can be one or the other exclusively. In other words, a jury may come up with an entirely logical, sensible verdict, but do so as the result of an improper compromise.

Likewise, a jury may be unified and in full agreement, making their decision based on the evidence and without negotiation or compromise but end up awarding an amount that makes no sense, or which does not agree with the evidence presented.

Differences are Important to Understand

It is important for attorneys to understand the difference between these, as they each have their own rules as to when the motions can be made, and how to preserve the issues for appeal if the trial court does not agree with a party’s motion for a new trial.

Ultimately, a court will look to see if a verdict is one that adduced in a logical manner, which could be made by reasonable people. The court will see if the amount awarded bears a reasonable relation to the damages.

Any indication that conjecture, speculation, prejudice, passion, or corruption will lead to verdicts being overturned and new trials being awarded if a party to an injury trial asks for this kind of relief.

Make sure you are being treated fairly in trial and that your rights to a fair jury are protected.  Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your injury or accident trial.