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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that trial court did not err in finding inconsistent verdict during middle of clerk's pronouncement of verdict and instructing jury to reconsider verdict

On March 20, 2017, in Christiansen v. Wright Medical Technology, No. 16-12162, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court did not err when the judge stopped the clerk during the middle of the clerk’s pronouncement of the verdict in a product liability case and instructed the jury to reevaluate whether they had properly filled out the verdict form. The jury had returned a verdict finding that the defendant was not liable for a design defect, which should have preempted any of the remaining questions concerning issues such as the amount of damages and whether there was negligent misrepresentation and associated damages. The defense moved for the trial court to accept the jury’s finding that there was no design defect, but the trial court refused on the basis that the jury had obviously misunderstood the form. The trial court subsequently specifically instructed the jury that they should not complete the rest of the form if they answered no to the first question. The jury then resumed deliberations, and after the court’s dismissal of one juror for refusal to follow the jury instructions, the jury ultimately reached a verdict in which they reversed their previous finding and found the defendant liable for a design defect. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the determination that a jury verdict is inconsistent is a mixed question of law and fact subject to plenary review as to whether there is no rational, non-speculative way to reconcile two essential jury findings. The Eleventh Circuit further ruled that to determine whether a conflict in the verdict can be reconciled, a trial court must ask whether the jury’s answers could reflect a logical and probable decision on the relevant issues submitted. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that by this measure the jury’s verdict was clearly irreconcilably inconsistent. The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the appellant’s alternative argument that a new trial should have been ordered, citing Dietz v. Bouldin, 579 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 1885 (2016), for the proposition that a federal court has inherent authority to recall a jury for further deliberations after identifying an error in the jury’s verdict.

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