So, you’ve taken your employment case – be it wrongful termination, race discrimination or sexual harassment – to trial and got a jury verdict. Now what? Our employment discrimination lawyers have blogged a lot about what it takes to get a case to a jury and shared some of our verdicts. (Best Law Read: Spitz Lawyers Win $1.33 Million Verdict; Another Winning Verdict For A Spitz Client). However, the fight does not stop when the foreperson hands the verdict form to the judge. Let’s go over some of the next steps.
What are the typical post-trial motions that are filed after a jury verdict?
There are several post-trial motions that may be filed after a jury verdict:
- Motion for Judgment Not Withstanding the Verdict (“JNOV”): This motion is also known as a directed verdict, and it argues that the jury’s verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence and/or is contrary to law.
- Motion for New Trial: This motion argues that the jury’s verdict was the result of some error or prejudice during the trial, such as juror misconduct or the admission of improper evidence. A trial court can only grant this motion once.
- Motion for Remittitur: A motion for remittitur is a request made by a defendant after an unfavorable jury verdict or court judgment, asking the court to reduce the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff. The motion is based on the argument that the damages award is excessive and not supported by the evidence presented at trial. If the court grants the motion for remittitur, the plaintiff has the option to accept the reduced award or go to a new trial on the issue of damages only. If the plaintiff accepts the reduced award, it is considered a compromise and is binding on the parties.
- Motion for Prejudgment Interest: A motion for prejudgment interest is a legal request made by a plaintiff after a favorable jury verdict or court judgment, seeking the award of interest on their damages from the date the cause of action arose until the date of the judgment. The purpose of prejudgment interest is to compensate the plaintiff for the time value of money lost as a result of the defendant’s delay in paying the damages. The amount of prejudgment interest is typically based on a statutory rate set by the jurisdiction or, in some cases, by agreement of the parties. The court may consider several factors in deciding whether to grant a motion for prejudgment interest, such as the length of time between the cause of action and the judgment, the reason for the delay, and the fairness of the award.
- Motion to Charge Costs: A motion to charge costs after a jury verdict is a request made by a prevailing party (either the plaintiff or defendant) asking the court to order the losing party to pay certain costs associated with the litigation. The types of costs that may be charged include filing fees, expert witness fees, deposition expenses, and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the litigation.
It’s important to note that these motions are not guaranteed to be granted and the decision to grant them is at the discretion of the trial court.
Can I collect on a verdict while the case is being appealed?
Whether you can collect on a verdict while the case is being appealed depends on the jurisdiction in which the case was heard and the specific circumstances of the case. In some jurisdictions, the winning party may be able to collect on a verdict during the appeal process, while in others, the enforcement of the verdict may be stayed or postponed until the appeal is resolved.
In general, the court may stay enforcement of a judgment during the appeal process if the losing party posts a bond or other security to cover the potential damages owed. The court may also impose conditions on the stay, such as requiring the losing party to pay interest on the judgment or providing additional security.
In some cases, the court may also permit the winning party to collect on a portion of the judgment during the appeal process. For example, the court may allow the winning party to collect damages for past harm, while postponing the collection of future damages until the appeal is resolved.
It is best to consult a qualified attorney to determine the specific rules and procedures for collecting on a verdict during the appeal process in your jurisdiction.
What are the chances that the verdict will be reversed?
According to uscourts.gov, “Fewer than 9 percent of total appeals resulted in reversals of lower court decisions … Appeals of decisions in U.S. civil cases and prisoner petition appeals had the lowest rates of reversals.” So, starting with the understanding that this includes all federal appeals, the standard for reversing a jury trial will be even harder.
Most appeals will focus on evidentiary ruling, which are reviewed on an abuse of discretion. When a court of appeals reviews a lower court’s decision for abuse of discretion, it is looking to determine if the lower court made a clear error of judgment or acted arbitrarily, irrationally, or without a sound basis in the evidence. If the appellate court determines that the lower court acted in an abusive manner, it may reverse the lower court’s decision and remand the case for a new trial or order a new trial on a specific issue.
However, even if there was an abuse of discretion, that does not mean that the case will be reversed. In the recent case, Wilder v. Stephen F. Austin State University, No. 21-40806, 2023 WL 1466616, at *1 (5th Cir. Feb. 2, 2023), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held:
Evidentiary rulings are “subject to the harmless error doctrine”; therefore, even if the court abused its discretion, “the ruling will be reversed only if it affected the substantial rights of the complaining party”. Adams v. Memorial Hermann, 973 F.3d 343, 349 (5th Cir. 2020) (citation omitted); see also FED. R. EVID. 103(a); Perez v. Texas Dept. of Crim. Just., Inst. Div., 395 F.3d 206, 210 (5th Cir. 2004) (“An erroneous evidentiary ruling is reversible error only if the ruling affects a party’s substantial rights.”).
Thus, an appellant would have to prove both that the judge abused his/her/their discretion and that such abuse of discretion affected the outcome of the trial.
For example, in Wilder, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected this evidentiary argument:
Dr. Wilder claims evidence regarding her termination from her subsequent position at Carlow University was, again, unduly prejudicial under Rule 403. See FED. R. EVID. 403. After hearing the parties’ positions and reasonably assessing the evidence, the court allowed limited testimony about Dr. Wilder’s belief regarding discrimination against her at Carlow University for the purpose of inquiring about the bases for her claimed emotional-distress damages in this action.
Her mental state at her subsequent place of employment in the year following her termination from SFA was relevant to the compensatory damages for emotional distress she sought from SFA; and, pursuant to the above discussed standard, she fails to show the probative value of the limited testimony was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Alternatively, even assuming error, and pursuant to the earlier described harmless-error standard, it did not affect her substantial rights.
Id. at *2.
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