Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Inconsistent Verdict Does Not Warrant New Trial

            In Alcantara v. Knight (NYLJ 1202714071974 at 1, App. Div., 1st, decided December 30, 2014), a negligence case, the plaintiff made a motion for a new trial after the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, and after what the plaintiff contended was an inconsistent jury verdict.  Particularly, the plaintiff's motion arose after the jury answered on its verdict sheet "yes" when asked if the defendant was negligent, it answered "no" when asked if the defendant was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injury, and thereafter - instead of ceasing answering the verdict sheet questions - it went forward and apportioned liability to each party (95% to plaintiff, 5% to defendant) and awarded the plaintiff $200,000.00 in damages.

            The New York County trial court denied the plaintiff's motion, and the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed that decision.  The Appellate Division, citing Pavlou v. City of New York (21 AD3d 74), noted that although the jury's acts in the instant case were incorrect, it was merely a "superfluous act" which did not warrant a new trial, and that the plaintiff failed to notify the trial court at the time of the verdict of the inconsistency and before the jurors were discharged.  The Appellate Division stated the following: "The same reasoning as in Pavlou applies here.  Once the jurors determined that defendant's negligence was not a substantial factor or proximate cause (see PJI 2:70, Proximate Cause - In General; see also PJI 2:36) of plaintiff's injuries, they should not have attempted to assess plaintiff's own negligence and to fix damages. That they did so was a superfluous act that does not require a new trial.  We note that plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict only after the jury was discharged, rather than alerting the court at a time when the jurors could have been questioned about the verdict."

Salvatore R. Marino, Esq.