As I indicated yesterday, my post today is on a trial we had last month in Baltimore, Maryland. Our client was making a left on a light turning red and hit a car coming in the opposite direction making a right turn. These are tough cases in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Alabama and North Carolina because these five jurisdictions still have contributory negligence as opposed to comparative negligence. As lawyers who do not practice in these jurisdictions will remember from law school, any contributory negligence on the part of the Plaintiff is a complete bar to recovery. But the case was from a Baltimore lawyer who refers a lot of personal injury cases. When in doubt, we are willing to take a chance when the case comes from one of our loyal referring lawyers.
AIG offered a whopping $5,000 to settle the case. One of our lawyers, Rod Gaston, tried the case. The jury found both parties negligent. Again, contributory negligence is an absolute bar to recovery. But the jury went on to award the Plaintiff $118,000. The judge did what he was required to do and entered a verdict on behalf of the Plaintiff for $118,000.
Naturally, AIG’s attorney filed a post trial motion to revise the verdict.
Our first argument is that the verdict is not a contradiction because there was no mention of whether the contributory negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. Rod argued vigorously in closing that if Plaintiff’s conduct was negligent, it was not the proximate cause of the accident.
The second issue is whether a jury can render inconsistent verdicts. I briefed a similar issue in a criminal context in my first law school moot court assignment. (I still remember the name of my fictional client, Darryl Dare, who I am pleased to say, beat the rap.) I wrote then, and now, that the law in Maryland has long been that verdicts may be inconsistent in both civil and criminal cases. Defendant’s lawyer cites one case in a master/servant context that did not allow inconsistent verdicts, but we contend that case should be limited to the master/servant context because the fundamental fairness principles associated with finding only one mutually inclusive defendant liable in a master/servant context are very different from the longstanding Maryland case law on inconsistent verdicts generally.