LaPorte County personal injury lawyer discusses a recent jury verdict and the jury's confusion in a car accident case.
In the recent case of Sienkowski v. Verschuure, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the LaPorte Superior Court's ruling that did not grant the plaintiff a new trial after the jury made a $200,000 mistake when it filled out the verdict form.
The facts of the car accident case are as follows:
- Sienkowski was injured in an automobile accident
- Sienkowski filed a lawsuit against Verschuure in the LaPorte Superior Court Room 1 here in Michigan City Indiana
- The case was tried to a jury
- The court instructed the jury on the law, explained Indiana Comparative Fault
- The jury was given two verdict forms. One form was a verdict for the defendant. The other verdict form was the standard Indiana comparative fault verdict form
- The jury found for the plaintiff and assigned 38% fault to plaintiff and 62% fault for the defendant
- The jury wanted to return a verdict of $336,300; however, when it first brought its verdict in, there was an error in the addition so the judge reinstructed the jury and sent them back to deliberate.
- The jury was still confused with the verdict form and returned a verdict of $128,712
After the jury was released from its service, a juror approached plaintiff's attorney in the parking lot, and explained that the jury wanted plaintiff to be compensated $336,300. Plaintiff tried to get a new trial by filing an affidavit of the juror. Many times we do not get a glimpse of what happens in the jury room and the juror's affidavit will help shed some light on what transpired so we can all learn from this unfair result.
A juror filled out an affidavit that said the following:
- After we all came to an agreement we wanted Sienkowski to 336,300 dollars, we had trouble trying to figure out the verdict form, and sent a note through the bailiff to that effect asking for instruction
- When we were given no additional help with the verdict form, we completed it to the best as we could entering the amount we felt that Sienkowski should receive, or $336,000.
- When we were sent back to the Jury Room with instructions to correct the verdict form because it was arithmetically inconsistent, we entered $127,712 Dollars, believing that Sienkowski would receive the sum of the two damage amounts added together, yielding a total Judgment for Sienkowski of $336,300
- I feel terrible that our confusion about how to complete the verdict form might result in Sienkowski getting much less than we jurors unanimously agreed that [she] should have, and I hope this can be corrected
The trial court found no basis in the law to throw out the verdict and order a new trial. The Court of Appeals approved the trial court's ruling and the plaintiff is stuck with the $128,712 verdict as opposed to the $336,000 verdict. I look at all cases and she what can be learned for the next litigant that goes trial. I have had some juries have trouble with verdict forms. Now in closing argument, I make an effort to go through the verdict form step by step in an attempt to avoid confusion. This should be a lesson for everyone, when we do something as a routine part of our job, we have a tendency to take that thing for granted and we do not realize that the job or task is foreign to somebody else.
Indiana law is complex. Sometimes, like in this case, there is an unfair result because of inadvertent error. If you have a questions about a Northwest Indiana car accident, call a Michigan City personal injury lawyer at (219) 874-4878.