This session of the Florida Supreme Court continues to have a big impact
on personal injury cases. In its
most recent ruling affecting victims of personal injury, the court handed down a decision
dealing with products liability cases. This new ruling is interesting
for several reasons. First, it changed what was perceived to be settled
law when it comes to products liability. And second, it established a
bright-line rule for all future products liability cases.
The main issue at hand in this case was a rather complicated legal concept
that is rarely dealt with. In a wrongful death and negligence case involving
an alleged defective product, a jury had to decide two issues: first,
whether the product in question (a ladder) was defective and therefore
caused the death and injuries of the victim; and second, whether the store
that sold the ladder was negligent because they sold an allegedly defective
ladder. It seems like a simple enough task, but the jury confused things
when they returned a conflicting verdict.
A Jury’s Confusing Decision
After the trial was over and both sides presented their evidence, the jury
answered both questions. But their answers were confusing: they said that
the ladder was not defective, but that the store was negligent for selling
a defective ladder. The jury then awarded damages based on their decision.
But as you can see, that does not make very much sense. The store couldn’t
really be negligent if the ladder was not defective.
Past Law on This Issue
Prior to this case being decided by the Florida Supreme Court, inconsistent
verdicts such as these in products liability cases were not necessarily
objected to. Lower Florida courts
previously held that the fundamental nature of a conflicting jury decision in products
liability cases did not require an immediate objection and could be resolved
by the judge. That meant that the defense could simply ask the court to
set aside a jury’s inconsistent verdict and dismiss the case.
New Ruling Means New Rule
The story that led to this case is truly a tragic one. A father was using
a ladder, when, during the use, he fell from the ladder, and died upon
impact. His survivors brought the lawsuit making two claims: that the
ladder malfunctioned due to a defect; and, that the big-name store that
sold the ladder was negligent for selling a defective ladder. After hearing
all of the evidence in the case, the jury returned the conflicting verdict
that is the subject of this blog. But instead of objecting when the verdict
was handed down, the defense waited to ask the judge to set aside the
verdict, and when that was not successful, they appealed.
The Florida Supreme Court reversed prior rulings, and established the now
bright-line rule that if a party wants to fix a conflicting verdict they
have to object at the time. There are several reasons why the Supreme
Court decided to rule this way. In the first case, if an affected party
objects at the time, the court can send the jury back to resolve the conflict.
By fixing the verdict this way instead of letting a judge do it, the jury’s
verdict remains the deciding factor. In our judicial system we place a
large emphasis on jury decisions. And secondly, fixing the verdict at
the time conserves limited judicial resources to decide cases. These are
just some of the reasons the Supreme Court decided the case the way they
did. In the end, the court sent the case back to the trial court to enter
the original verdict decided by the jury.
Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney Here for You
This case is a great example of why it is so important to have an experienced
qualified personal injury attorney working for you. At The Pittman Firm,
we dedicate our practice to representing victims of accidents and injuries.
Contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.