Judges split over whether to reinstate jury verdict


Jennifer Nelson for www.theindianalawyer.com

The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a jury verdict, tossed out by the trial court in a negligence case stemming from a car accident, reinstated because the judge did not follow Trial Rule 59(J). The dissenting judge believed the trial court should have the opportunity to supplement its order first.

Elizabeth Jackson sued Roger Levy for damages after he ran his vehicle into the back of her car. The cars sustained minimal damage, Jackson refused treatment at the scene and the airbags did not deploy. That night she went to the emergency room for treatment. She later sought treatment for nearly a year from a chiropractor and eventually had shoulder surgery.

Even though Levy admitted fault, and despite hearing evidence from three medical providers who treated Jackson that she suffered injuries as a result of the collision, the jury ruled in favor of Levy.

The trial court overturned the jury verdict, finding the decision to render a defense verdict is against the weight of the evidence.

The majority noted in Roger D. Levy v. Elizabeth Jackson, 29A02-1407-CT-482, that the trial court’s order sets out the evidence in favor of the verdict for Jackson but does not mention any of the evidence in favor of a verdict for Levy. As such, it failed to comply with Trial Rule 59(J). Judges Melissa May and Paul Mathias reversed and ordered the court to reinstate the jury verdict.

Judge Margret Robb dissented, writing, “I believe it is antithetical to the principles of due process to penalize a party for a trial court’s failure to follow protocol without at least offering the opportunity for the trial court to correct its failings.”

She noted the cases cited by the majority supporting their decision all dealt with a trial court that completely failed to even attempt to make special findings to support its decision.

When it appears a trial court has endeavored to make a showing as to why the jury verdict needs overturned, but has simply fallen short, Robb wrote she would allow the court an opportunity to supplement its order.