Thursday, April 23, 2009
Goodyear? No, The Worst: Minnesota Opinion Reveals That The Anti-Jury Impeachment Rule Precludes Jury Testimony Concerning Quotient Verdicts
The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Mississippi in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Kirby, 2009 WL 1058654 (Miss.App. 2009), provides a nice illustration of how the anti-jury impeachment rule precludes post-trial jury testimony on whether the jury reached a quotient verdict.
[t]hree young men, all of whom were under the legal age and intoxicated, were driving a 1998 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 at speeds from 88-92 miles per hour during the early morning hours of August 5, 2000, in rural Copiah County. The owner and driver of the automobile was Travis Kirby, age 20, and with him were his two friends, Strickland, age 18 who was in the front passenger seat, and Odom, age 19, who was in the back seat. At approximately 3:00 a.m., the automobile left the road, rolled, clipped a tree, continued to roll hitting another tree, and then came to rest on its side against a tree. The accident... was not discovered until about dawn when a passing motorist, Sandy Adams, saw a piece of tire tread and some gravel on the side of the road. He stopped, spotted the car lying on its side against a pine tree, and began to render aid. He found one young man, later identified as Strickland, conscious sitting up against a tree to the left of the car and another young man, later identified as Odom, nearby but unconscious lying face down on the ground. Adams called the sheriff's department. Adams said that Strickland kept saying, “Where's Travis? We need to find Travis,” so he started to look for a third person and found Kirby covered up in a brush pile. When he checked Kirby's pulse, he found he was dead.
that the cause of the accident was a faulty right back tire manufactured by Goodyear and sold by Big Ten which without provocation threw off pieces of tread causing the tire to rapidly deflate and the car to lose control and crash. Goodyear and Big Ten claim[ed] the accident was caused by the excessive speed at which the car was traveling, by the drunken condition of the driver Kirby, and by a puncture in the tire caused by impact damage after running over something that cut the surface of the tire.
The jury largely sided with the plaintiffs, in large part based upon the testimony of their accident reconstructionist, Gilbert L. Rhoades, who testified, inter alia, that the road was straight and level where the accident occurred and "that the cause of the wreck was a catastrophic failure of the right-rear tire, which caused the tire to rapidly lose air pressure." But the jurors did not award the plaintiffs the full damages that they sought, and the defendant claimed that there was "good" reason for this.
According to the defendants, the jury reached an illegal quotient verdict, i.e.,
an award of money damages set by a jury in a lawsuit in which each juror states in writing his/her opinion of what the amount should be. Then the amounts are totalled and divided by the number of jurors to reach a figure for the award.
The problem with this argument was that this allegation concerned something internal to the jury deliberation process, meaning that it did not form the proper predicate for jury impeachment under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 606(b). Indeed the Advisory Committee Note to the federal counterpart to Minnesota Rule of Evidence 606(b) makes clear that the ani-jury impeachment rule does not allow for post-trial jury testimony indicating the the jury reached a quotient verdict.