A Jury Verdict: The Final Word, or a Bargaining Chip?
In today’s New York personal injury and medical malpractice litigation world, the plaintiff’s jury verdict – while a powerful vindication of the plaintiff’s story and recognition of the plaintiff’s pain and suffering – is, most often, not the final step in the saga of a plaintiff’s quest for compensation. This is because, as with the majority of steps taken during a trial, its outcome is subject to appeal to a higher court and can be, in some circumstances, modified by the higher courts or overturned entirely. While it does certainly put the plaintiff in the drivers’ seat – in a dominant position over the defendants – a prudent, experienced plaintiff’s attorney knows that this position of power can be lost, in some cases, if not properly managed and used. That is why, in many cases, top New York personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers will use victory at trial as a bargaining chip to achieve the most favorable settlement possible with the defendants. The following are just a few of the considerations which must be paramount in the mind of the personal injury and medical malpractice trial lawyer in determinig how to view your plaintiff’s jury verdict.
CPLR 4404: The Court May “Set Aside” The Verdict.
If the jury returns its verdict for the plaintiff, the fight begins immediately: Every defense attorney worth his salt will make a post-verdict motion pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. Section 4404(a), asking the court to do one of two things: (1) Overturn the verdict entirely and decide the case in favor of the defendant; or (2) reduce the amount of the damages awarded to the plaintiff. The basis of each of these requests is the defense’s belief that no reasonable-minded jury could have possibly come to the verdict rendered given the evidence before it. Either the trial judge, or an appellate court, may do either of these two things if, after considering the request, they agree with the defendants.
CPLR 3211(a)(7): The Court May Dismiss Your Case Entirely.
At the close of the plaintiff’s presentation in court, nearly every defense attorney will make a motion to the trial judge to dismiss the case entirely, claiming that the plaintiff has not laid out the necessary elements to sustain its case, and that thus the case must be dismissed before it even sees the inside of a jury room. If this motion is granted, the case is finished; even if the motion is not granted at the close of the plaintiff’s case, it may be renewed again after a plaintiff’s verdict is returned, and may be the basis of an appeal of your jury verdict. Appellate courts will, in the case of an appeal, scrutinize the trial record; they may find that the plaintiff has not made its case – potentially on some technical, unforeseen point of obscure law – and dismiss the case, leaving the plaintiff permanently without fair compensation for their pain and suffering.
Obviously, in some cases, there is no sense in negotiating because the size of the verdict is very large (thus making it likely that an appellate court will only reduce the verdict to an amount beyond what the defendant will be willing to pay even to settle a verdict), the proof presented by the plaintiff is beyond reproach, or the defendants are adamant that the jury got it wrong and are not interested in negotiating. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. That is why your New York personal injury and medical malpractice attorney will often counsel you to approach the defendants with a settlement offer after a win at trial. The settlement is beneficial to you as a plaintiff because it assures that you will receive fair compensation for your injuries; the settlement is beneficial to the defendants because, among other things, it stops the post-judgment interest (9% under New York law, running from the date of the verdict) from running, which can add up to substantial amounts over the course of an appeal.
To speak with one of our expert New York personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys about these or any other issues relating to a case that you may have, please do not hesitate to call us at (718) 354-8000 or send us an email today!