Can a Judge Just Throw Out a Jury Verdict in a Personal Injury Case?
When a personal injury lawsuit proceeds to trial, it is the role of the jury to serve as the “fact finder.” Among other things, this means the jury–not the judge–is supposed to weigh the credibility of the witnesses and other evidence in determining who was at fault for an accident. Although there are limited circumstances where a judge may step in and overturn a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff, it is not the normal way of doing things.
Appeals Court: Judge Abused Discretion in Reversing Jury Verdict Based on Late Defense Claims of Fraud
A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Salazar v. Gomez, helps to illustrate this point. In this case, the plaintiff sued the defendant following a car accident. The plaintiff specifically alleged that he sustained a serious neck injury in the accident that required surgery.
In a pre-trial deposition, the plaintiff also disclosed that he was involved in another car accident about a year earlier. The plaintiff testified this earlier accident did not result in any injuries or require medical treatment. But about a week before trial, the defense acquired medical records that appeared to contradict the plaintiff’s testimony on this point.
As the Third District noted in its opinion, at this point the defense had several options. The defense could have asked the trial judge for more time to conduct further investigation. Alternatively, the defense could have requested a new deposition and asked the plaintiff to explain the alleged inconsistencies. But instead, the trial proceeded on schedule. Of course, the defense did cross-examine the plaintiff on the purported conflict between his deposition testimony and the medical records.
Ultimately, the jury still ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. The jury found the defendant was 61 percent responsible for the accident. The judge, however, decided to overturn the verdict and dismissed the lawsuit based on the defense’s claim that the plaintiff had lied and thus “perpetuated a fraud upon the court.”
The Third District said the trial judge was out of line and reinstated the verdict. By its verdict, the appellate court said the jury had “implicitly rejected” the defense’s claim that the plaintiff had lied about his pre-accident injuries. And even if the plaintiff did lie, the defense could have made a pre-trial motion to correct that. Instead, by proceeding to trial, the defense puts its fate in the hands of the jury and could not now complain about its decision.
Indeed, the defense presented no additional evidence in its post-trial motion to dismiss the case. Nor did the judge consider anything beyond what was already in the record before the jury. So under the circumstances, the Third District said it was an “abuse of discretion” for the judge to usurp the jury’s role as fact finder.
Speak with a Florida Car Accident Lawyer Today
The right to a jury trial is central to our legal system. No judge or defendant should be allowed to undermine that right. If you have been injured in a car accident and need zealous legal representation from an experienced auto accident attorney, contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a consultation.