Missouri Personal injury Appellate Decision, Plaintiff Entitled to New Trial When the Jury Awarded Damages but did not Assess any Fault to the Defendant

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern Division in this personal-injury case against Federal Express, reversed and remanded the the trial court’s entry of judgement in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff challenged the sufficiency of the jury verdict which assessed zero percent of fault to her, zero percent fault to the corporation, and then found her damages to be $150,000. The appeal was based on the fact that the verdict form instructed the jury to enter a finding as to her damages only if it had assessed a percentage of fault to the corporation.
The plaintiff was involved in an automobile collision between the car she was driving and a truck being driven by an employee of defendant FedEx. The plaintiff sued FedEx for negligence, seeking to recover compensation for her personal injuries. The trial court submitted the case to the jury against defendant FedEx, under instructions and a verdict form approved for use in comparative-fault cases. At the conclusion of the case the jury returned its verdict assessing no fault to either party, but awarded damages of $150,000 to plaintiff. Under the Missouri Approved Instruction for comparative fault, damages can only be awarded if the defendant is found to be at fault.
Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the verdict was inconsistent and requested a mistrial. The trial court polled the jury which confirmed the verdict as its verdict, the court then accepted the verdict, and found that the $150,000 in damages was surplusage and meaningless, and entered judgment in favor of defendant FedEx.
The Missouri Court of Appeals in a two to one decision found the contradictory and that it could not fairly be resolved as a definite finding in favor of either party. The court then held that the verdict was inconsistent and a nullity, incapable of supporting the entry of any judgment. As a result they found that the trial court committed error in entering judgment upon this verdict and reversed the judgment and remanded the cause for a new trial.
It should be noted that at the time of this entry this is not a final decision and subject to modification. See