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Jury Issues Not Sufficient to Overturn Verdict

Oct 17, 2014

On October 14th, a New Jersey appeals court held that issues among the jury will not be enough to overturn a no-cause verdict. According to New Jersey Law Journal, the jury issued the verdict in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who allegedly suffered whiplash injuries in a 2010 car accident.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had rear-ended her, causing her head to collide with the back of her seat. When the trial occurred in June 2013, the defendant admitted liability but disagreed that the accident caused a permanent injury. Allegedly, the accident caused the plaintiff to suffer from daily neck pain that gets worse upon lifting heavy objects. She also alleges that she had trouble sleeping and suffers from long-lasting headaches, New Jersey Law Journal reports. Court documents state that these symptoms were not successfully treated by physical therapy, spinal injections and radiofrequency ablation. The expert for the defense testified that she suffered minimal disc bulging.

The trial was overseen by Judge James Den Uyl, who told the jury that the woman suing had to prove her claim "through objective, credible, medical evidence" and that "objective proof means the injury must be verified by physical examination or medical testing and cannot be based solely upon the plaintiff's subjective complaint."

Court documents show that the jury asked the court "'Is the evidence of permanent damage based on just the herniated/bulging/protruding disc?'” shortly after deliberations started. The plaintiff's attorney thought the answer should be “no” while the defense thought otherwise. Judge Den Uyl suggested that the jury be called in to clarify the information they were referring to, and both attorneys agreed. The jury did not give an answer for “awhile”, after which time Den Uyl questioned whether to call on them again or to just “leave them alone,” court records show. Neither attorney wanted to disrupt the jurors, so no action was taken.

In the end, the jury made a decision without getting a definite answer for their earlier question. Jurors held 6-0 that the plaintiff failed to prove that she sustained a permanent injury from the accident.

According to New Jersey Law Journal, a female juror tried to speak with the judge after the trial but replied that he could only answer written questions from the jury as a whole. The plaintiff claimed that the same juror called her one day later, and stated that the jury thought the verdict was to be issued based on the MRI. The juror also reportedly said that seven of the eight jurors thought she had suffered a permanent injury; they ruled otherwise, however, because they thought that the clinical finding of spasms was not enough to render a verdict. The juror also said that one male juror said the plaintiff was being dishonest for financial gain, the plaintiff said in an affidavit supporting her motion to grant a new trial or question the jurors.

The motion was denied by Den Uyl and Appeals Judges Carmen Alvarez, Alexander Waugh Jr. and Susan Maven. The judges pointed to the doctrine of invited error, in which "litigation tactics...generally precludes parties from seeking a second chance when the tactic they chose at trial has failed," The plaintiff chose not to interrupt the jury and did not object to a verdict without the question being answered, and her motion cannot be granted simply because the verdict was not in her favor, said the judges.

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