Issue: Did the trial court give erroneous instruction in a FELA case? If so, what is the proper remedy when the jury’s verdict changed following additional post-verdict instructions?
Facts: Employee sued Employer under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that Employer’s negligence caused him health problems. The jury returned an $8.6 million verdict upon finding (1) Employer’s negligence caused Employee’s injuries, (2) Employer violated safety regulations, and (3) Employee was 62% at fault for his injuries. The court then, sue sponte, told the jury that its second finding meant that Employee would get 100% of the damages, and then sent the jury back for further deliberations. The jury returned with an amended verdict of $3.2 million. After entering the verdict the court granted Employer a new trial because of “instructional and evidentiary errors.” The case was assigned to another judge, who granted Employer’s motion for summary judgment because Employee’s causation testimony was inadmissible. Employee appealed.
Appellate Decision: The intermediate court held in favor of Employee and reversed. The court determined that the initial instructions were complete and accurate, and that the initial verdict was clear. Moreover, the court found the additional post-verdict instruction was erroneous. Thus, the intermediate court held the trial court erred in granting a new trial. The case was remanded for the trial court to act as a thirteenth juror and determine if the initial verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence; if not, the smaller verdict should be entered. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment was rendered moot by the judgment, although the intermediate court reached that issue in case of further review and determined that the grant was not appropriate.
Review Granted: June 24, 2014.
Prediction: Ben thinks that the Supreme Court will affirm in favor of Employee for the reasons offered by the intermediate court, except that Ben fails to see why a $3.2 million judgment would necessarily be appropriate if the trial court as thirteenth juror finds the $8.6 million verdict to be against the weight of the evidence.