October 26, 2014 • Personal Injury FAQs
So, you are fighting a personal injury case in a New York court and the trial is at a stage where the jury needs to decide what the settlement amount that you, as the plaintiff, are eligible to. Given the nature and extent of the injuries that you have suffered the jury returns a decision in your favor with a huge settlement amount. But is that the end of your trial?
If the settlement verdict given by the jury is in accordance with what the defendant was expecting to pay, chances are the opposition will let the matter rest. But if the settlement amount is high, you should know that the opposition has the right to contest the verdict in court. As soon as the jury announces the final verdict in the case, the defense can ask the Judge to dismiss the said verdict. Their reason – the settlement amount in the verdict is ‘against the weight of evidence’; meaning that the jury is awarding the plaintiff an amount which goes beyond the eligible compensation for the plaintiff’s injuries.
But of course, it is not that easy to overturn a jury’s verdict in an instant. In most cases the Judge will let the jury’s ruling stand, and the defense lawyer has two options – he can file what is known as a ‘post-trial motion’ for the Judge to reconsider and announce a new verdict in the case, or he can directly appeal to a higher court.
Appeals vs. Motions in New York Courts
It is an incorrect notion that all trials, where one of the parties is not happy with the decision, are appealed. The New York Appellate Division has laid down specific guidelines on the kind of cases that can be appealed. In general, an appeal can only be taken from an order or a judgment, and no appeal is possible in cases where the parties have the opportunity to come to a mutual agreement.
The appeals process is costly, and requires the appellant to obtain court transcripts of the trial and point out specific legal issues in the transcript where the trial judge ruled incorrectly. It is also important to understand that an appeal is not a new trial, and the Appellate Court does not hear new evidence or witnesses in the case.
A post-trial motion on the other hand is filed in the same trial court where the case was heard and can be filed on several grounds such as a motion asking for a new trial, motion asking the judge to reconsider verdict (judgment notwithstanding verdict), or a motion to nullify the judgment. A post-trial motion is not a pre-requisite to appealing a judgment but in cases involving a jury’s decision, it is better to file a motion than to appeal.
A judge is not likely to reverse decisions unless new evidence is discovered in a case, but if the defense believes that a jury has been misdirected or has made calculation errors while awarding settlements, then it is very likely that they will file a motion. It is therefore critical that you understand the nature of post-trial motions and appeals and be aware of the possibility that your opposition lawyer may use this tactic in court, if the jury returns a verdict with a huge settlement amount.