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Duk v. MGM Grand Hotel, Inc.

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was awarded damages after a first jury trial despite being found more than 50% negligent by they jury on a special verdict form;  the court resubmitted the verdict form and the jury apportioned 49% of the fault to Duk, with the same damage award. Defendant’s moved for a new trial based on inconsistent verdicts and the jury returned a verdict for Defendant after the second trial. Plaintiff appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Special verdicts are subject to the practice of resubmission of a verdict to the jury in the case of an inconsistency.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

We hold that, as in the case of parenthetical comments, special findings issued in violation of the trial court's express instructions do not constitute legitimate or viable findings of fact.

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Facts.

After a first jury trial, the jury was advised that if Plaintiff was more than 50% negligent, judgment would be entered for Defendant; if Plaintiff was 50% or less negligent, it should determine damages, based on the state’s (Nevada’s) comparative negligence law. The first verdict form found Plaintiff to have been 65% negligent but awarded damages of $3.3 million nevertheless. The court resubmitted the verdict form and the jury apportioned 49% of the fault to Duk, with the same damage award. Defendant’s motion for a new trial based on inconsistent verdicts was granted. The jury returned a verdict for Defendant after the new trial. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue.

Did the district court abuse its discretion in its decision to disregard the second jury verdict (after resubmission of the verdict form) in the first trial, and in granting Defendant’s motion for a new trial ?

Held.

Yes, the district court abused its discretion in its decision to disregard the second jury verdict (after resubmission of the verdict form) in the first trial, and in granting Defendant’s motion for a new trial.

Discussion.

Because Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 49(a) does not expressly prohibit the practice of resubmitting a special verdict to the jury, special verdicts have been held subject to this practice. Resubmission of inconsistent verdicts is done to allow a jury to reconcile the inconsistencies and continue deliberations. Here, it was possible to explain the inconsistency in a way that complied with the law (e.g., that the jury redeliberated and clarified its decision-making or changed its mind as to percentage fault). Therefore, the district court’s decision to order a new trial was an abuse of discretion.


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