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Robb v. John C. Hickey, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. The issues in the case centered on whether the Defendant, John C. Hickey, Inc. (Defendant), was negligent or whether the Plaintiff, Robb (Plaintiff), was contributorily negligent. The jury’s verdict found the Defendant to be more negligent than Plaintiff and awarded damages. The court found the jury’s verdict to be vague and ambiguous with regard to the final decision.
    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A court may mold an informal verdict to render it formal, effective and make it coincide with the substance of the verdict as agreed upon and intended by the jury. However, this power is only exercised where the real purpose and intent of the jury clearly, sufficiently and convincingly appears.

    Facts. The case required the jury to decide whether the Defendant had been negligent and whether the Plaintiff had been contributorily negligent. The jury was instructed that if it found the Plaintiff’s decedent to be contributorily negligent, it did not have to address the comparative degrees of negligence. The jury came back with a verdict that found the Defendant more negligent than the Plaintiff and awarded the Plaintiff $2,000. Both parties were unhappy with the verdict. Plaintiff argued that the verdict was unambiguous and contrary to the charge of the court and the Defendant upon notice moved to have the verdict molded because the jury’s intent was clear in finding for the Defendants.

    Issue. Whether the court may inject its own decision when a jury returns an ambiguous and inconsistent verdict.

    Held. No. Reading the verdict as a whole, it is self-contradictory, inconsistent and ambiguous. One is left to infer and surmise as to the real purpose of the jury. The verdict was defective in substance and form.

    Discussion. The verdict in this case was uncertain and ambiguous in that it erroneously compared the degrees of the parties’ negligence and therefore, could not be molded or deemed to be an informal verdict. Therefore, the court could not substitute its own verdict in place thereof.


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