The Jury Verdict in My Personal Injury Trial was in My Favor. Why Have the Defendants Not Paid Yet?

Imagine the following scenario, which is quite common in Bronx personal injury lawsuits: After years of litigation, your personal injury case finally comes up for trial; and after a month-long trial, the jury awards you a substantial amount of money as compensation for your injuries. However, several months have passed, and your personal injury attorney explains that the defendants are still refusing to pay.

Why, you might ask are the defendants refusing to pay when a jury has decided that you are owed compensation? Shouldn’t a jury verdict, rendered after years of litigation and a long trial, be the end of the story? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions can often be “no”. This is because, even where a jury has found in your favor, defendants and insurance companies in New York personal injury lawsuits have the absolute right to appeal to the trial judge, as well as to the appellate courts (which may include, in the New York State Court system, the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals), and ask that the jury’s verdict be modified or thrown out entirely. This article discusses some of the ways in which, even after a favorable jury verdict, defendants may still try to deny you the compensation that is rightfully yours.

Immediately after the verdict is read, the defendants (and, indeed, all parties to the case) may make requests (called “motions”) to the court to do any of the following (some of which requests are made while the jury is still empaneled, and some of which can be made after the jury is dismissed):  (i) “direct” a verdict in their favor; (ii) “vacate” the verdict and order a new trial on any issue decided by the jury (or even the whole case itself); or (iii) reduce the amount of damages awarded against it in the jury’s verdict.  A request for a “directed verdict” is an argument that the jury’s verdict was entirely incorrect as to liability for one or all of the defendants, and that the judge should take the decision-making power away from the jury and dismiss the case.  A request to “vacate” the verdict is an argument that the jury’s verdict was defective in some way (because, for example, the jury’s verdict sheet demonstrated evidence of juror confusion, the jury’s verdict was inconsistent with the evidence at trial, or the judge’s instructions to the jury were improper so as to produce an unfair verdict), and that thus the entire verdict, or some portion of the verdict, should be thrown out and the case (or an individual issue) should be re-tried.  A request for a modification (i.e., a reduction) of the damages awarded (also known as “remitur”) is an argument that one or all of the categories of damages awarded by the jury (e.g., pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earnings) was far too high or otherwise unsupported by the evidence and should be reduced to conform to the evidence presented.

Many of these requests, known collectively as “post-trial motions”, are made in writing; the judge will then, in many cases, issue a written decision on each post-trial motion.  This process takes a considerable amount of time.  After the judge decides the post-trial motions, even assuming that all of them are denied and the jury’s verdict stands, the defendants have the absolute right to appeal the case to an appellate court (a court which sits above the trial court and reviews the decisions of the judge and jury at trial), a process which can take years to resolve (and which may ultimately result in an entirely new trial).

As you can see, a jury verdict in your favor can be, in some cases, far from the last step in your quest for fair compensation.  To discuss these issues, or any other issues relating to any personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit, feel free to contact Jesse Minc at (718) 354-8000.