Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict Revisited

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One of the most common assumptions about legal proceedings is that once the jury has a verdict the case is closed. However, this is not always so. As discussed in the November 2015 issue of Legal News, a jury verdict is not necessarily the end of a legal case, and may represent only the first step in the appeal process. In civil cases, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove that he or she is entitled to an award or judgment and, at trial, is required to go first in presenting the claim to the jury. When the plaintiff “rests” his case, the defendant can submit a motion for a directed verdict challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence, essentially arguing that the plaintiff has failed to present enough evidence to support a jury verdict in his favor. Generally, a judge will deny the motion or defer a decision until the close of all the evidence at which time the defendant will renew the motion. Following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant can move for “judgment notwithstanding the verdict,” again on the basis of insufficient evidence. Although such motions are usually denied, filing such motions are pre-requisites for preserving the issues raised for appeal.

How It Works

Because courts are charged with preserving the rights of the parties to a jury trial and are reluctant to disturb the finding of a jury following trial, the standard for a directed verdict or judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and subsequent review on appeal, is necessarily narrow. Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court determines “whether anywhere in the evidence, from whatever source derived, any combination of circumstances could be found from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the plaintiff.” Although rare, some cases do fall short.

Case Study: Injury with Insufficient Evidence

In one recent case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a jury award in favor of a plaintiff, who had been injured in a bar room incident when a beer bottle struck him in the head, finding that the plaintiff had not met his burden of proving the bar’s negligence. In that case, the plaintiff had gone to the bar with friends and was seated at a table when a fight broke out among other patrons. The plaintiff argued that the bar failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to bystanders stemming from the confrontation including that the security measures taken by the bar were inadequate. In reversing the jury’s verdict for the plaintiff, the Appeals Court noted that the plaintiff was the only witness to testify at trial and that he did not know how many security personnel were present during the confrontation, that he did not know whether anyone had called the police or whether the police, if called, would have arrived before he had been hit by the beer bottle. The court also remarked that the plaintiff, who had never been to the bar before that night, provided no evidence of prior incidents at the bar which would have required intervention from police or security personnel. The court concluded that although it is “the special province of the jury” to determine whether a party had breached its duty of reasonable care, “a verdict must rest on something more than surmise or conjecture.”

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If you or a loved one were injured because of someone’s negligence, contact Attorney Allison now for a free consultation by calling 978-740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form.  We look forward to talking to you about your claim.