In Coba v. Tricam Industries, Inc., 40 FLW S257 (Fla., May 14, 2015), Florida Supreme Court discussed the procedure lawyers must follow when faced with an inconsistent verdict. (Although this was a wrongful death case, it is important for all civil litigators, including insurance lawyers).
The Coba case was a wrongful death case alleging strict products liability and negligence claims. At the conclusion of the trial the jury found “No” on Design Defect, and “Yes” on negligence. The jury then assigned 80% negligence on the victim. No objection to the verdict was raised, and the jury was discharged.
The Supreme Court found against the Plaintiff stating:
When a jury in a civil case returns with an inconsistent verdict and a party does not object before the jury is discharged, the well-established law has been that the party waives any objections to the inconsistent verdict.”
The Court found there is no “fundamental nature” exception to this rule.
Of course, it may have been a strategy on the Plaintiffs’ part to not send the jury back, fearing what they may do with a fresh, clean verdict form, and hoping for a “fundamental” error exception to the “well-established” law.
This case is a good reminder of what to do when faced with an inconsistent verdict, and what to do with an inadequate verdict:
1. Inconsistent Verdict: In order to preserve error, you must object before the jury is discharged, and have them return to deliberate. (However, you have to consider the strategy of whether you want to send the jury back with a clean verdict form. Include your client in on that discussion and make sure it is their decision.)
2. Inadequate Verdict: Can be dealt with post-trial without objecting before the jury is discharged.
A copy of the case can be found here: Coba v. Tricam – Inconsistent Verdict