Florida Supreme Court Rules a Timely Objection to a Jury’s Inconsistent Verdict Must be Made in a Products Liability Case or the Issue is Waived

Micah'sphotos 754 morguefile micahmorowThe Florida Supreme Court has held that a party to a products liability action must make a timely objection to an inconsistent jury verdict before jurors are discharged or the issue is waived. In Coba v. Tricam Industries, Inc., a Florida man was killed after he fell 13 feet from an apparently faulty ladder. After the fatal accident, the personal representative of the man’s estate sued the ladder manufacturer and distributor for both negligence and strict liability in a Florida court.

During trial, the plaintiff offered testimony from two of the deceased man’s relatives who witnessed his unfortunate fall. In addition, the plaintiff provided contested evidence regarding an alleged design defect included in the ladder. After the evidence was presented, jurors were given instructions regarding the standard for finding a design defect under both strict liability and negligence theories. In addition, the jury received instructions about the standard for finding negligence based on the distribution and sale of an allegedly defective ladder. Without objection from either party, the court also provided jurors with special interrogatories about the ladder’s purported design defect.

After jurors determined the ladder was not defectively designed, they attributed 80 percent of the fault for the accident to the decedent. The jury then issued an award of about $1.5 million in the case. After the verdict was returned, neither party objected and the jurors were discharged.

Soon after the jury was released, the defendants filed a motion to set aside the verdict because it was fundamentally inconsistent. The plaintiff countered that the defendants’ claim was waived because they failed to raise the issue before the jury was discharged. The estate also requested a new trial. The trial court ultimately denied both parties’ motions, reduced the jury award by 80 percent, and entered judgment in favor of the estate. In response, both parties filed an appeal with Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the Third District overturned the trial court’s order denying the defendants’ motion to set aside the verdict and stated a party to a products liability action is not required to challenge a jury’s inconsistent verdict before jurors are discharged if the inconsistency is fundamental in nature. The plaintiff then appealed the Third District’s decision to the Supreme Court of Florida.

After analyzing Florida jurisprudence, the state high court said it was well established that a timely objection is required in any case where a jury issues an inconsistent verdict or the objection is waived. The court further held that there was no reasonable basis for creating an exception to this general rule in a products liability action. After rejecting the decision issued by the Third District Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Florida ordered that the trial court’s judgment be reinstated.

If you were injured or lost a treasured loved one due to a manufacturer’s defectively designed product, you need a hardworking personal injury lawyer on your side. To discuss your rights with a seasoned Miami products liability attorney today, you should call the caring advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Coba v. Tricam Industries, Inc., Fla: Supreme Court 2015

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