Friday, January 10, 2014
The Eighth Circuit allowed a remittitur of damages in a personal injury case but otherwise upheld the plaintiff's verdict in Tedder v. American Railcar Industries, Inc., No. 13-1063 (8th Cir. Jan. 9, 2014).
Plaintiff's back was injured when a golf cart struck a table he was sitting on. Defendant conceded negligence but disputed causation, pointing to plaintiff's earlier back injuries.
The jury awarded plaintiff over $2 million, twice what his lawyer suggested. The trial court remitted the award but otherwise denied defendant's motion for a new trial:
Sitting through the trial, one thing became very obvious: the jury disliked defense counsel. Lead counsel, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri [the case was tried in Jonesboro, Arkansas], was extremely abrasive to everyone in the courtroom. During the trial, a number of the jurors turned away when defense counsel addressed the witnesses and some routinely “rolled their eyes” when counsel spoke. While there is no doubt that the jury had sufficient evidence to find ARI liable, it is clear that the verdict was meant not only to compensate Tedder for his injuries, but also to send a message to defense counsel that their behavior was unacceptable.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed:
[T]here would be an inherent unfairness in subjecting Tedder to a new trial based solely on the abrasive behavior of ARI’s counsel. We have previously held that a civil litigant may not seek a new trial based on the alleged deficiency of his own counsel. Glick v. Henderson, 855 F.2d 536, 541 (8th Cir. 1988) (“[The] remedy for any ineffective assistance of counsel [in a civil case] is a suit against [the party’s] attorney for malpractice, not a new trial . . . .”). That principle applies with equal force here, where the grant of a new trial to the offending party would deprive its blameless adversary of a well-won victory. While these circumstances are perhaps not as prejudicial as those in Hale, where a new trial would have been the fourth between the parties, we should also remember who the plaintiff in this case is. Tedder is not a corporation with perpetual life and an army of in-house litigators; he is an aging, disabled man who has spent the last four years of his life in litigation. To scuttle Tedder’s victory on the merits solely because of his adversary’s deficiencies would severely prejudice him for reasons that he, along with many others, would find hard to fathom. Thus, we conclude that the district court did not err in denying the motion for new trial.