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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Intelligence Quotient: Supreme Court Of Wyoming Denies Plaintiff New Trial Despite Allegations Of Quotient Verdict

Similar to its federal counterpart, Wyoming Rule of Evidence 606(b) provides that

Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection therewith, nor may his affidavit or evidence of any statement by him concerning a matter about which he would be precluded from testifying be received, but a juror may testify on the questions whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror.

As I have noted before, jurors are not allowed to enter a "quotient verdict," which is

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.

That said, can jurors impeach their verdict through testimony that it was a quotient verdict? And can there be a quotient verdict if jurors do not agree beforehand to be bound by the result reached? These were the questions addressed by the Supreme Court of Wyoming in its recent opinion in Lake v. D & L Langley Trucking, Inc., 2010 WL 2292910 (Wyo. 2010).

In Lake, Dallas Lake was involved in an automobile accident with Orval Whited and brought an action against D & L Trucking, alleging that Whited, while in the course and scope of employment for D & L, negligently attempted to pass him as he was making a left hand turn, thereby causing the inevitable collision. Jurors saw it differently, finding Lake 86% at fault for the accident and Whited only 14% at fault, meaning that Lake recovered nothing because he was more than 50% at fault.

During deliberations, the jury requested a calculator. And after deliberations, a juror completed an affidavit that indicated that the jury agreed to estimate individual estimates of fault in reaching its verdict. These and other facts led Lake to file a motion for a new trial based upon, inter alia, jury misconduct.

First, Lake claimed that the juror's affidavit was admissible despite Wyoming Rule of Evidence 606(b) by invoking federal authority. The Supreme Court of Wyoming, however, found that this authority did not support Lake's position. Indeed, the Advisory Committee's Note to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) clearly relied upon the Supreme's Court's opinion in McDonald v. Pless for the proposition that the testimony and affidavits of jurors are incompetent to show a quotient verdict.

Second, Lake claimed that he could prove an illegal quotient verdict even without the testimony or affidavits of jurors. According to Lake, the only legitimate use for the calculator would have been the calculation of damages., and because the jury did not award any damages,  the jury could only have been using the calculator to compute an averaged percentage of fault for the respective parties. The Wyoming Supremes turned this argument aside, finding that

Even if we were to move beyond this purely speculative conclusion, the fact the jury may have used a quotient process for determining fault does not warrant the presumption the jury ultimately rendered an impermissible quotient verdict. A verdict that is based upon the average judgment of all the jurors is not impermissible where it does not appear that there was an agreement beforehand to abide by the resulting number. As this Court has explained:

[T]he test to be applied in determining the validity of a quotient verdict is whether the jury agreed "beforehand" to be bound by the result reached, since it is not the mere arriving at the average of the jurors' opinions as to the amount of damage which makes the quotient verdict bad, but the vice consists in an agreement by the jurors to be bound by the result of the addition and division, thus allowing the quotient whatever it may be to stand without subsequent reconsideration. If, however, there is no agreement that the average estimate shall be binding, and the averaging is done merely for the purpose of arriving at a working basis which the jurors are to be free to accept or reject as they see fit, a verdict subsequently agreed to is binding, whether it be for the average or for some other amount.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/06/606b--lake-v-d-l-langley-trucking-inc----p3d------2010-wl-2292910wyo2010.html

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