Handling a Disappointing Verdict: When Not to Seek a New Trial
It’s one of the most fundamental tenets of our legal system that, in a jury trial, the judge rules on issues of law, while the jury finds the facts. Only in rare and extreme cases is the judge allowed to step in and find that the jury has come to an erroneous conclusion—for instance, when the jury has made a decision that is against the manifest weight of the evidence, or when the jury has attempted to render a verdict that’s contrary to law. It’s clear why the system works this way: it would undermine the jury system if judges could act as an additional juror with veto power, stepping in to “correct” the problem whenever they felt that the jurors got it wrong. With that said, the realities of the jury system can, at times, be difficult to accept. In some personal injury cases, for example, you might not get as much compensation as you’d like from a jury verdict. But if there’s a reasonable basis for the verdict, there is no sense in filing a motion for a new trial; that will only add more costs. Experienced attorneys know the difference between the jury coming to an undesirable decision and the jury getting it really wrong, and can advise you on how to handle an undesirable verdict.
A Lesson in Accepting the Outcome
The case of Smith v. Llamas, a 2013 decision from the Florida Court of Appeals, provides a good example of a jury verdict that, while perhaps a bit unfair to the plaintiff, was not worth the extra time and expense of continuing to litigate. In Smith, the plaintiff sustained injuries to his neck and knee as a result of an automobile accident. The jury entered a verdict of $37,000 in his favor, but awarded him no damages for future pain and suffering, finding that his injuries were not permanent. The plaintiff, Mr. Llamas, felt that this decision was against the weight of the evidence. He had presented testimony from multiple medical experts who said that the injuries were permanent and that he would likely feel pain for the rest of his life. As for the neck injury, however, the defense had offered a competing expert who stated that, after Mr. Llamas’ surgery, it seemed likely that, with proper management, the pain would subside. And as to the knee injury, there were several reasons why the jury might have disbelieved the expert, including inconsistencies in Mr. Llamas’ testimony; the testimony of an eyewitness who said he did not see any injuries to Mr. Llamas’ knees, and his own expert’s admission that the injury might not have been the result of the accident.
The trial court, perhaps swayed by sympathy for Mr. Llamas, allowed his motion for a new trial, and the defense team appealed. The Florida Court of Appeals then found that the judge had erred in allowing the motion, citing the numerous reasons why the jury might not have believed the plaintiff’s experts that the injuries were permanent. Thus, Mr. Llamas spent time and money bringing a motion for a new trial and arguing an appeal—perhaps eating into his $37,000 award—when it would have been better for him simply to accept that, while the verdict was not what he wanted, it was the best he could get.
A Good Attorney Will Know the Difference
Making tough decisions and delivering bad news are some of the hardest things for any attorney, but a good one carries out these difficult functions with grace. If you’ve been injured in any automobile accident, you can rely on the personal injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates, P.A. to help you evaluate your verdict.