Sunday, April 5, 2020

In the January 2017 issue of the Los Angeles Lawyer, attorney Paul S. Marks advised on the risks of heading to trial.

Most litigants do not go to trial because they are not able to predict the outcome as they can with a settlement. 

For example, Mr. Marks recounted a case involving a rental property dispute with around 6 claims, including negligence and emotional distress.  Two weeks prior to trial, the attorneys asked the court to postpone the case so the attorneys could conduct a settlement conference.  The judge refused to postpone the case, aware that the parties were not prepared for a trial – evident by the jury instructions and verdict forms not having been filed.

Mr. Marks gave a play-by-play from trial to final verdict.  On day 1, after the 12 jurors were empaneled, the attitude of the parties changed from the initial desire to settle. The trial continued for four days.  Seven witnesses testified.  When the plaintiff rested, the defendant filed a nonsuit motion to dismiss two claims.  The jury was left with two claims to consider, and the judge was left with two remaining equitable claims to determine after the jury returned a verdict.

After each party completed closing arguments, the jury left for deliberation at 3:45 pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend.  This was an anxious time for the attorneys and their clients.  If the jurors did not reach a verdict in 45 minutes, the case decision was delayed until Tuesday.  At 4:29 pm, the jury buzzed that a verdict was ready. 

The judge reviewed the verdict for irregularities, then subsequently sent the jurors back to their room for deliberations.  The judge was not pleased with how the jurors answered a question, and asked them to read the instructions carefully.  The day ended with no verdict. 

On the following Tuesday, a revised verdict came.  The court again disagreed with the verdict and requested the jury return to deliberations to read the instructions carefully.  The parties were not allowed to review the verdict form.

After 35 minutes, the second revised verdict came.  The jury wanted to award damages, but not find the defendant liable.  The court told the jury that they were concerned about the contradictory findings, and requested the jury review the evidence again.

After another 35 minutes, the third revised verdict came.  The clerk published the verdict.  The plaintiff objected to the jury’s answer to a question.  The defense complained the verdict form was not properly written.  The jury came out with another verdict. 

As outlined in Mr. Marks experience, jury verdicts can be highly unpredictable.  When parties do not settle, they might end up with multiple versions of a verdict when a jury wants to award damages, but cannot to decide on a defendant’s liability.


Read the article here.