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Just Because A Verdict Is “Inconsistent” Does NOT Mean It’s Against the Weight of Evidence (PA)

January 16, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently issued a refresher on the distinction between an “inconsistent” jury verdict and a verdict that is against the weight of evidence. In<em> <a href="">Avery v. Cercone</a></em>, 2019 PA Super 366, No. 174 WDA 2019, the Court heard an appeal by Avery alleging that a jury’s original verdict awarding $8,500 in damages for lost wages and $0 for pain and suffering was against the weight of evidence, not merely an inconsistent verdict.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The underlying case involved a fact pattern in which Spadafora unwittingly merged the vehicle he was driving into a funeral procession and rear-ended Avery into the car in front of her. Spadafora admitted his fault at the scene and the jury found him negligent. The jury originally returned a verdict against him for $8,500 for lost wages and $0 for pain and suffering. The trial judge then instructed the jury to resume deliberations and to award Avery something for pain and suffering. The jury then returned a second verdict adding $10,0000 for pain and suffering. On appeal, Avery alleged that the original verdict awarding $0 was against the weight of evidence and therefore the only appropriate remedy was a new trial; it was not an inconsistent verdict that the judge could direct the jury to correct upon further deliberation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In its opinion, the Superior Court explained that an inconsistent verdict is a verdict that does not clearly report the jury’s factual findings of a case and the problem appears within the four corners of the verdict slip. When an inconsistent verdict occurs, the trial court should, upon objection by a party, return the jury to deliberate further and instruct it to clarify (not reconsider) the verdict. On the other hand, a verdict that is against the weight of evidence is a verdict that shocks the conscience of the trial court in light of the evidence presented. When this occurs, it must be addressed in a timely post-trial motion by one of the parties, and a trial court should order a new trial. The Court emphasized that an inconsistent verdict is NOT a verdict that is inconsistent with the evidence; for if the evidence factors into the trial court’s decision to disturb a verdict at all, then the court is deciding a weight-of-the-evidence issue – which can only be addressed in post-trial motions and the possible granting of a new trial.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gregory Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.</p>


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