In Brown v. Cartwright, 203 Conn.App. 490 (2021), the Connecticut Appellate Court recently issued a decision providing important guidance for litigants considering, or involved in, post-trial motion practice seeking to set aside a jury verdict when alleging the jury didn’t consider all of the evidence.
In Brown, the plaintiff alleged that his left front wheel “fractured” while driving, which caused him to sustain personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident. He subsequently filed a product liability action against Hyundai Motor America, Inc. among other defendants. The plaintiff tried the case to a jury, which ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the defendants. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the verdict.
In moving to set aside the verdict, the plaintiff argued that “due to an error” the jury had retired to the deliberation room without his exhibits which was a “harmful evidentiary impropriety.” The trial court ultimately delivered the missing exhibits to the jury, and it returned a verdict approximately ten minutes later. Based on the short period of time it took the jury to return a verdict, the plaintiff also argued that the jury had failed to consider all of his exhibits. Finally, the plaintiff argued that the defendants’ counsel had improperly read from two documents not entered into evidence during his cross-examination of the plaintiff and one of his expert witnesses.
The trial court denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed on the following grounds: (1) “the court’s failure to timely deliver the plaintiff’s exhibits to the jury deprived him of a fair verdict; (2) the jury did not follow the court’s instructions to consider all the evidence; and (3) opposing counsel’s statements during cross-examination unfairly prejudiced the jury.”
The appellate court affirmed the denial of the motion to set aside the verdict. It determined that the plaintiff did not present any “evidence that the jury began deliberations prior to the delivery of all the exhibits.” Since the plaintiff did not provide any evidence in support of this claim, any harm was “purely speculative.” In fact, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to “bring the late delivery of his exhibits to the attention of the court prior to the reading of the jury’s verdict.”Thus, the plaintiff failed to “preserve his issue for review.”
In addition, the appellate court rejected the argument that the jury failed to follow the court’s instructions because it “was not possible for the jury to review thousands of pages of exhibits, beyond a mere cursory look in the roughly ten minutes between when it received his exhibits and when it delivered its verdict.” In rejecting this argument, the appellate court noted that “[a] short deliberation, rather than being indicative of a lack of diligence, may in fact attest to the [weakness] of the [nonprevailing party’s] case.”
Finally, the appellate court declined to review the plaintiff’s claim that reading from exhibits which had not been entered into evidence was improper. The plaintiff argued that the curative instructions that the trial court gave to the jury were “insufficient.” In reviewing the record, the appellate court determined that the plaintiff “received and accepted, without objection, the benefit of a jury charge that addressed the conduct of the defendants’ counsel.” The appellate court concluded that by “requesting curative instructions and not objecting to the instructions given by the court, the plaintiff waved any claim of error.”
In short, the Brown decision is an important reminder that litigants must timely assert their objections in order to preserve issues for appeal. The decision also serves to remind litigants that any claims of jury misconduct must be supported by evidence, and not just speculation or conjecture. The appellate court will not automatically infer misconduct simply because the jury returns a verdict quickly. For more on this topic, or on this decision, please contact Richard Fennelly of our Hartford, Connecticut office.