Post Trial Motion: Opposition to Motion to Revise Judgment: Maryland Lawyers

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR BALTIMORE CITY, MARYLAND

AINSLEY DONOVAN PECKOO,
- Plaintiff,

v.

JOSEPH HENRY WALKER,
- Defendant

CASE NO.: 24-C-04-006398 MT

Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Motion to Revise Judgment or, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial

The Plaintiff, Ainsley Donovan Peckoo, by and through his undersigned attorneys, opposes Defendant’s Motion to Revise Judgment or, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial. In support, Plaintiff states as follows:

  1. A Jury’s Verdict Should Be Accorded Great Deference
  2. The Maryland Court of Appeals has stated that a "jury's verdict should not be casually overturned. In our system of justice, the jury is sacrosanct and its importance is unquestioned. The members of the jury see and hear the witnesses as they testify. They watch them as they sweat, stutter or swagger under the pressure of cross-examination." Adams v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 119 Md. App. 395, 408-09, 705 A.2d 58 (1998) (quoting Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. v. Garrett, 343 Md. 500 (1996). In reconciling a jury's answers to specific interrogatories, this Court should assume that the jury was rational and consistent, rather than irrational or inconsistent. Edwards v. Gramling Eng. Corp., 322 Md. 535, 547-548 (1991). Accordingly, this Court’s “quest should be for a view of the case which would make the jury's findings consistent." Id. (emphasis added).

  3. Because the Verdict Sheet That Defendant Sought and Received Did Not Include Proximate Cause, It Cannot Now Claim the Verdicts Are Inconsistent
  4. Defendant sought and received, over objection of Plaintiff’s counsel, a jury instruction on contributory negligence that did not include mention of whether the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence was the proximate cause of his injuries. The jury found contributory negligence and then awarded Plaintiff damages. Defendant sought a finding of contributory negligence which is not inconsistent with a damage award because the jury could have found in accordance with the actual contributory negligence instruction that was given that (1) Plaintiff was contributorily negligent and (2) Plaintiff’s negligence was not the proximate cause of his injuries.

    Defendant claims that there is sufficient evidence on the verdict sheet to suggest that the jury intended to render judgment in favor of the Defendant. But the jury awarded $118,009.37 to the Plaintiff. Awarding a specific damage sum to the Plaintiff obviously evidences intent to award the Plaintiff damages. Why would the jury award damages if they did not intend the Defendant pay the damages? Conversely, the jury’s finding that the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent is not mutually exclusive of a damages award because the verdict sheet Defendant sought made no mention of proximate cause. Because the jury made its intentions clear, this Court should use its power to correct, remold or reform the verdict of the jury so as to express the jury’s intent if that intent is beyond doubt, clearly and definitely manifested. Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Keulemans, 275 Md. 441, 340 A.2d 705 (1975); Traylor v. Grafton, 273 Md. 649, 332 A.2d 651 (1975). Here, the clear intent is a damage award because the jury did not believe that Plaintiff’s contributory negligence was a proximate cause of his injuries.

  5. Inconsistent Verdicts Are Permitted Under Maryland Law
  6. It has long been the law in Maryland that verdicts may be inconsistent in both civil and criminal cases. See, e.g., Garrett, 343 Md. at 521; Hoffert v. State, 319 Md. 377, 384-85, 540 (1990); Wright v. State, 307 Md. 552, 576 (1986); Shell v. State, 307 Md. 46, 54 (1986); Mack v. State, 300 Md. 583, 594 (1984); Ford v. State, 274 Md. 546, 552-53 (1975); Johnson v. State, 238 Md. 528, 541, 545 (1965); Ledbetter v. State, 224 Md. 271, 273-75 (1961); Williams v. State, 204 Md. 55, 64 (1954); Leet v. State, 203 Md. 285, 293-94 (1953); and Zachair v. Driggs, 135 Md. App. 403, 440 n.17, 762 A.2d 991, 1011 n. 17 (2000). Defendant points to one case, Southern Management v. Taha, 378 Md. 461 (2003) for the premise that inconsistent jury verdicts are no longer tolerated under Maryland law. But the holding in that case should not be read to upset over 50 years of Maryland cases allowing inconsistent verdicts from a jury. Instead, it should be limited to the unique facts of the case involving a discrete area of law that has been the subject of law review and journal articles. See, e.g. Court's Power to Grant New Trial as to Both Defendants, Over Their Objection, Because of Verdict Holding Employer and Absolving Employee for Latter's Negligence, 16 A.L.R.2d 969(1993). The fundamental fairness principles associated with finding only one mutually inclusive defendant liable in a master/servant context are very different from longstanding Maryland case law on inconsistent verdicts generally. Accordingly, the holding in Taha should be limited to its specific facts.

  7. Alternatively, This Court Should Order a New Trial
  8. If the Court is not inclined to accept the arguments advanced above, a new trial should be granted because it is impossible to argue that a jury that awarded the Plaintiff $118,009.37 intended to enter a defense verdict. If the Court were to so rule, the new trial should be based solely on the alleged inconsistency of contributory negligence under the doctrines of collateral estoppel and issue preclusion because the issues of damages and the Defendant’s liability have already been clearly resolved by the jury. Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel or issue preclusion,"[w]hen an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, the determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties, whether on the same or a different claim.” Murray International v. Graham, 315 Md. 543, 547 (1989).

    In the instant case, we clearly have a fact that has been determined by a final judgment: damages in the amount of $118,009.37. Defendant was also clearly found to be negligent and the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries. Because this issue has already been determined, should this Court order a new trial, the only issue at that trial should be contributory negligence.

Respectfully submitted,
MILLER & ZOIS, LLC

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