Friday, June 3, 2016

New Standards on Trial

 The Mississippi Supreme Court decided Reynolds v. Allied Emergency Services, PC, et al. yesterday.  The opinion is located here.  It is a strange set of facts but precedent setting.  After hearing all the evidence in a medical-malpractice trial, the jury retired to deliberate.  At some point during their deliberations, they requested a copy of the jury instructions, which the bailiff provided.  But instead of providing the approved set of instructions, the bailiff mistakenly provided a set that the defendants previously had proffered, which included a peremptory instruction.  The jury returned a unanimous defense verdict, and the parties left the courthouse.  When the trial judge discovered the jury instruction mistake later that afternoon, he called the parties back to the courthouse and later
ordered a new trial.  The defendants then filed a motion to enforce the high/low settlement agreement
that the parties had entered into prior to trial.  The trial judge agreed with the defendants that
a new trial was not allowed under the agreement and rescinded his previous order granting
it.   The agreement was more or less a waiver of appeal rights by both parties with an agreement that the defense had a maximum they would pay no matter what the jury verdict was. 

The Court reasoned that the verdict was not valid. The basis for this finding was precedent stating that a verdict with irregularities present is void. From the opinion:
It is difficult to imagine a scenario more prejudicial to a party than what occurred here. The jury mistakenly was provided a copy of the defendants’ proffered instructions–some of which had been withdrawn, and some of which had been outright denied–and the first instruction they read told them to find for the defendants…
Since there was no valid verdict, the condition precedent to a high/low agreement (a verdict) was not met. Therefore, Plaintiff gets a new trial.  I could see this precedent as having far reaching consequences to both plaintiffs and defendants on appeal.  Some of the reasoning may also have application in criminal cases.  I could see the Mississippi Supreme Court in future opinions now having to distinguish what is harmless error vs. what justifies a void verdict. 

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