holding that even a dubious verdict or the use of poor judgment by the jury is an insufficient basis for setting aside a verdictSummary of this case from Arties's Auto v. Hartford Fire
The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court from the judgment of the trial court ordering a new trial in the plaintiff's negligence action after the defendant refused an additur of noneconomic damages ordered by the court. The plaintiff had moved for an additur or to set aside the verdict after the jury awarded only economic damages. The Appellate Court, reviewing the action of the trial court on a motion to set aside the verdict, affirmed the trial court's judgment and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Held that the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court's judgment, the trial court having evaluated the evidence and the jury's award in a manner consistent with its statutory authority and the jurisprudence sanctioning the exercise of discretion in appropriate circumstances; accordingly, the appeal was dismissed as improvidently granted.
Argued December 8, 1999
Officially released February 15, 2000
Action to recover damages for personal injuries sustained in an automobile accident allegedly caused by the defendant's negligence, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury and tried to the jury before Shortall, J.; verdict for the plaintiff awarding economic damages only; thereafter, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for additur or to set aside the verdict as to noneconomic damages; after the defendant refused the additur, the court rendered judgment for the plaintiff and ordered a new trial on the issue of damages only, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Foti, Schaller and Hennessy, Js., which affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Appeal dismissed.
William J. Melley III, with whom, on the brief, was Roger L. Brewer, for the appellant (defendant).
Timothy C. Moynahan, with whom, on the brief, was Jeffrey J. Oliveira, for the appellee (plaintiff).
Jack G. Steigelfest and Constance L. Epstein filed a brief for the Connecticut Defense Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.
After examining the record on appeal and considering the briefs and oral arguments of the parties, we have determined that the appeal in this case should be dismissed on the ground that certification was improvidently granted.
We granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the judgment of the Appellate Court; Gladu v. Sousa, 52 Conn. App. 796, 727 A.2d 1286 (1999); limited to the following issue: "Did the Appellate Court properly hold that the trial court was within its discretion in ordering an additur where a jury had determined that a plaintiff was entitled to economic damages but no noneconomic damages?" Gladu v. Sousa, 249 Conn. 921, 733 A.2d 233 (1999).
In brief, the plaintiff, Helen Gladu, filed a motion for additur following the jury's verdict awarding economic damages only. The trial court granted that motion, adding an award of noneconomic damages, and, after the defendant refused the additur, ordered a new trial on the issue of damages. The defendant, Joao Sousa, appealed from the trial court's judgment. The Appellate Court, in reviewing the action of the trial court on a motion to set aside a verdict, in accordance with our well established precedent, examined whether the court had abused its discretion and whether, on the evidence presented, the jury fairly could have reached the conclusion that it did. See Birgel v. Heintz, 163 Conn. 23, 26, 301 A.2d 249 (1972), and cases cited therein.
"In passing upon a motion to set aside a verdict, the trial judge must do just what every juror ought to do in arriving at a verdict. The juror must use all his experience, his knowledge of human nature, his knowledge of human events, past and present, his knowledge of the motives which influence and control human action, and test the evidence in the case according to such knowledge and render his verdict accordingly. . . . The trial judge in considering the verdict must do the same . . . and if, in the exercise of all his knowledge from this source, he finds the verdict to be so clearly against the weight of the evidence in the case as to indicate that the jury did not correctly apply the law to the facts in evidence in the case, or were governed by ignorance, prejudice, corruption or partiality, then it is his duty to set aside that verdict and to grant a new trial. . . . The trial judge has a broad legal discretion and his action will not be disturbed unless there is a clear abuse. . . . A mere doubt of the adequacy of the verdict is an insufficient basis for such action. . . . A conclusion that the jury exercised merely poor judgment is likewise insufficient. . . . The ultimate test which must be applied to the verdict by the trial court is whether the jury's award falls somewhere within the necessarily uncertain limits of just damages or whether the size of the verdict so shocks the sense of justice as to compel the conclusion that the jury were influenced by partiality, prejudice, mistake or corruption." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 27-28.
Without relying on the per se rule of Johnson v. Franklin, 112 Conn. 228, 232, 152 A. 64 (1930), which we overruled today in Wichers v. Hatch, 252 Conn. 174, 176, 745 A.2d 789 (2000), the trial court in this case evaluated the evidence and the jury's award in a manner consistent with its statutory authority and our jurisprudence sanctioning the exercise of its discretion in appropriate circumstances. Exercising its appropriate role, the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court's judgment.
General Statutes § 52-216a provides: "Reading of agreements or releases to jury prohibited. Adjustments for excessive and inadequate verdicts permitted. An agreement with any tortfeasor not to bring legal action or a release of a tortfeasor in any cause of action shall not be read to a jury or in any other way introduced in evidence by either party at any time during the trial of the cause of action against any other joint tortfeasors, nor shall any other agreement not to sue or release of claim among any plaintiffs or defendants in the action be read or in any other way introduced to a jury. If the court at the conclusion of the trial concludes that the verdict is excessive as a matter of law, it shall order a remittitur and, upon failure of the party so ordered to remit the amount ordered by the court, it shall set aside the verdict and order a new trial. If the court concludes that the verdict is inadequate as a matter of law, it shall order an additur, and upon failure of the party so ordered to add the amount ordered by the court, it shall set aside the verdict and order a new trial. This section shall not prohibit the introduction of such agreement or release in a trial to the court."