Can you imagine being able to overturn a jury verdict and getting another shot at trial?

One might be surprised to find out that a jury verdict can be overturned if certain conditions are met, mainly the jury’s verdict constitutes a miscarriage of justice. The plaintiff in Carmello v. Singh, Inc., Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No.: A-1174-12 filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under Rule 4:40-2 and filed a motion for a new trial under Rule 4:49-1. Originally plaintiff was the motion was denied, however the Appellate Division reversed the denial and remanded to the trial court for a new trial. The appellate court wrote some particularly strong language in this opinion stating that “[t]he jury’s conclusion was clearly against the weight of the evidence, and resulted in a miscarriage of justice which affords plaintiff the opportunity for a new trial.”

The salient facts are as follows. Plaintiff Carmello was struck from the rear by a vehicle operated by defendant, Singh, who was an employee of Rintel Distributors, Inc. Carmello sought to recover damages for her injuries she suffered to her right shoulder, neck, and lower back, which required surgery. The jury unanimously found Carmello did not sustain any injury caused by the motor vehicle accident. When Carmello filed for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial, the trial court denied the motion.

At trial, Carmello presented two experts to testify on her behalf, both of them are board certified orthopedic surgeons. The first expert, Dr. Garfinkel, testified he operated on Carmello’s right shoulder rotator cuff and testified “although plaintiff’s surgery improved her condition, she will continue to have pain and permanent restrictions in the use of her arm, including limits on weight lifting or overhead movement.” As a result, Carmello could no longer work as a plumber in her family business. The second expert opined Carmello suffered a disc herniation, also directly caused by the accident. Defendant’s expert testified plaintiff’s disc herniation was from degenerative disc disease and the torn rotator cuff was from “a long-standing congenital condition.” However, the defense expert offered one statement, on which the Appellate Court relied upon in overturning the trial court’s determination: “I’m not saying the lady wasn’t hurt. But she got hit from the rear and she had a soft tissue injury to her neck. There’s a temporary soft tissue injury.” He added to this comment “she may have had a temporary injury, but I don’t find a permanent injury.”

The trial court stated it “does not clearly and convincingly find that there was a miscarriage of justice under the law.” Because there was no manifest denial of justice, the judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a motion for a new trial should be declined according to the lower court. In deciding that a motion notwithstanding the verdict, a court must consider whether the evidence, together with any legitimate inferences, could sustain a judgment in the prevailing party’s favor. Reilly v. Keenan, 406 B.J. Super. 281, 298 (App. Div. 2009). The Appellate Court must review whether denying an order for a new trial clearly resulted in a miscarriage of justice under the law. The court must accord “due deference to the trial court’s feel of the case” and view the evidence in the most favorable light to the party opposing the motion for a new trial (in this case the defendants).

The Appellate Court determined the jury could only find for Carmello based on the testimony it heard at trial. “Defendants’ own expert acknowledged that plaintiff was no doubt injured as a result of the collision, a conclusion in which he was joined not only by plaintiff’s experts, but which was corroborated by plaintiff’s testimony. . . .”

The defense attempted to counter the motion for the new trial by arguing that minimal injuries are not compensable – the reviewing court agreed with the principle, but found that the notion did not have a place in this case because the supporting precedent backing the principle did not address the miscarriage of justice that occurred. Every witness acknowledged plaintiff was injured therefore, there are at least some amount of damages owed.