Trial by jury is an essential right for any victim whom brings a personal injury lawsuit. It is the jury's function to sort through conflicting evidence and determine liability for a car accident or similar event. While there are limited circumstances in which a court may set aside a jury verdict, the judge may not simply substitute his or her own judgment.
Appeals Court Reverses Judge Who Tossed Verdict, Questioned Plaintiff's Motives
Recently, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed a Bronx Supreme Court judge who set aside part of a jury verdict arising from a 2009 car accident. The accident involved three vehicles - an ambulance, a Toyota, and a Jeep - that were driving (in that order) along a highway access ramp near the Catskills. The ambulance was transporting a non-emergency patient and her daughter. The ambulance stopped near the merge point of the ramp and the highway after observing a problem with another vehicle. Although the ambulance remain stopped for several seconds, the driver did not deploy the siren or hazard lights.
The Toyota, which was right behind the ambulance, braked suddenly upon realizing the ambulance had stopped. The Jeep then rear-ended the Toyota, which pushed it into the ambulance. The daughter who was accompanying her mother in the ambulance subsequently sued the owners and drivers of all three vehicles, claiming she suffered a “serious injury” as a result of the accident.
The question of liability was tried before a jury in Bronx Supreme Court. The jury determined that all three drivers were negligent and apportioned 50% of the blame to the Jeep driver, 20% to the Toyota driver, and 30% to the ambulance driver. After the decision was announced, the Toyota driver asked the judge to set aside the verdict as “contrary to the weight of the evidence.”
The judgeagreed with the Toyota driver that the Jeep driver was at “total fault” for the accident by pushing the middle vehicle into the ambulance. The judge said the Toyota driver did not act unreasonably when he failed to brake sooner than he did to avoid the collision. To hold the Toyota driver liable for “normal driving behavior” was “absurd,” the judge said. The judge went on to impugn the motives of the plaintiff—and her personal injury lawyer—in naming the Toyota driver as a defendant, suggesting they were in “search of a pot of gold” due to the amount of the defendant's car insurance coverage.
Unfortunately for the trial judge, the Appellate Division did not see anything untoward in the plaintiff's case or the jury's verdict. In a three-paragraphorder, the appeals court said there was “legally sufficient evidence” supporting the jury's conclusions, and its verdict should be reinstated. The Appellate Division did not address the trial judge's hyperbole regarding the plaintiff's motives but did reiterate the jury was free to “accept or reject” the testimony offered by both parties regarding the cause of the accident.
Need Help With a Personal Injury Case?
This case illustrates the essential role juries play in impartially deciding accident cases. A qualifiedNew York personal injury lawyer can help ensure judges respect your right to a jury trial. Contact the offices of Mahir Nisar Attorney at Law., today if you would like to speak with an attorney today.