Jury Trials 101: What is Remittitur? What Court Reporters Need to Know

 

Skilled court reporters know the ins and outs of trials, so they can navigate situations that might otherwise be confusing with ease. Even when a court reporter isn’t directly reporting on a matter, understanding the context surrounding an issue is extremely helpful.

Did you know that in most states there are mechanisms in the law that allow a trial judge, in certain cases, to change a jury’s verdict?  In this post, we’ll discuss one of those: Remittitur.  This procedure allows a trial judge to decrease the amount of damages a jury awards to a plaintiff. If you are the plaintiff in a lawsuit, you certainly don’t want this to happen. For example, if you were injured in a slip and fall accident, you’ll want a slip and fall lawyer Memphis TN trusts to prepare your case for trial. While remittitur is not always avoidable, we know how to present cases at trial to increase the chances that favorable jury verdicts for our clients will stand.

The trial judge, charged with ensuring a fair trial, serves as a check on a jury’s discretion to award damages.  One way the trial judge does this is by serving as what is referred to as “the thirteenth juror.”  As “the thirteenth juror,” the judge must independently weigh and review the evidence presented at trial to determine whether it preponderates in favor of the verdict and decide whether he or she agrees with and is satisfied with the jury’s verdict. No verdict is valid unless approved by the trial judge.

Generally, if the trial judge is not satisfied with the jury’s verdict, the judge must set aside the verdict and order a new trial. If the trial judge’s dissatisfaction, however, is based only upon the jury’s award of damages, the trial judge may suggest a remittitur, which, if accepted by the plaintiff, would reduce the award to an amount the judge deems appropriate. Remittiturs were designed to correct excessive jury verdicts as an alternative to the more expensive and less efficient solution of granting of a whole new trial.

Trial judges may suggest adjustments to a jury’s verdict even if the verdict is within the range of reasonableness. The range of reasonableness is determined by establishing the upper and lower limits of an award of damages that can be supported by material proof. To decide whether a verdict is within the range of reasonableness, the  judge must consider the credible proof at trial regarding the nature and extent of the injuries, pain and suffering, economic losses including past and future medical bills, lost wages and loss of earning capacity, age, and life expectancy.

In a personal injury case, the question is whether the amount of money awarded to the injured person is excessive, which requires ascertainment of a figure that represents the point at which excessiveness begins. This will establish the upper limit of the range of reasonableness. An excessive verdict may be cured by remitting the sum by which the award exceeds that figure.  The judge may consider the amount awarded in similar cases in determining whether a verdict is excessive.

When the trial judge suggests a remittitur, the plaintiff has three options: accept the remittitur, refuse the remittitur and opt for a new trial, or accept the remittitur under protest and seek relief from a higher court.

If you need help with a personal injury case or are a court reporter looking to understand more about the trial process, please contact us today.

wisemanbray attorneys at lawThanks to our friends and contributors at Wiseman Bray PLLC for their insight into jury trials and remittitur.

What is a Deposition, Mediation, Trial and How the Differences Impact Your Legal Case

Being a party to a lawsuit is perhaps one of the most stressful and confusing events a person will face in life.  Often you will be faced with having to pay out potential large dollar amounts, incurring criminal penalties or other serious repercussions that have major impacts on your day to day life.  Even when represented by legal counsel you will encounter terms, proceedings, and requests phrased in unfamiliar or intimidating legal jargon.  Not having a thorough understanding of these various proceedings and official labels can add anxiety and uncertainty to an already complicated situation.  Here we unwrap and explain the most common legal proceedings and how they each affect your obligations differently when involved in a legal proceeding.

Depositions
If you watch cable legal dramas, you may think that the only type of information presented at trial comes courtesy of a briefcase, file folder or police evidence bag.  In reality, the evidence presented at trial can come from a variety of sources, including proceedings that occur before trial called depositions.  A person can request a deposition to take an official, on the record statement from a witness or party to civil litigation.  These statements can be used at trial.  A deposition is sworn testimony.  A court reporter will be present taking down everything you say.  As a rule of thumb, don’t answer anything other than what is asked.  A deposition is like a conversation, but in many ways it is not a conversation.
The statements made during a deposition are instead given the same weight as a person’s in-person testimony in front of a jury.  Depositions can help flush out issues, commit the deponent—the person speaking—to certain positions, and clear up questions.  Participants of a deposition may have a personal injury lawyer Brookhaven GA relies on present.  The lawyer will object when appropriate but generally is not allowed to speak during the deposition. Refusing to participate in a deposition can lead to a person being sanctioned, forced to attend, or paying the other side’s legal and court fees.  Generally, depositions can last from as short as 5 minutes to as long as 7 hours, sometimes more if the court allows for it.
You must prepare for your deposition. Your lawyer should schedule a time to help you prepare.  Generally, what you and your lawyer discuss is privileged however and the other lawyer cannot ask you what you talked about.  This is called the “attorney-client privilege”.

Mediations
In some legal disputes, the parties may be able to reach an agreement without the need for a trial.  Judges will often assess the specific case and the positions of the individual participants and order the parties to participate in traditional mediation.  Other times parties may willingly agree or ask the other side to attempt mediation before progressing to trial.
Traditional mediation involves both the plaintiff and defendant attending the mediation to present their facts and arguments to the other side in the presence of a neutral, third party mediator.  This mediator will not decide the case but instead attempts to work with the parties to help them resolve their differences and come to a mutual understanding.  The compromise is documented in a mediation agreement which, when signed by the parties, binds each side to a specific result.
Mediation may not work for all cases and has the best results when the parties are open-minded and willing to listen to the other side’s point of view.  Participants bring their lawyers and the lawyers make the arguments.  Sometimes an expert or other witnesses may attend as well.  Mediations cost much less than trials and can often help reach a better resolution for all involved parties.  When mediation begins, the mediator will separate the parties (and their lawyers) to separate rooms and shuttle offers and ideas back and forth until a resolution is reached.  Everything discussed in mediation is confidential, though a mediator may be forced under rare circumstances to disclose.  Generally, however, all settlement discussions are confidential and cannot be disclosed to a jury if the mediation proves unsuccessful.

Trials
The trial phase is the culminating event of any legal proceeding.  If mediation or other alternative dispute resolution fails to help the participants reach a consensus on their dispute, the case will proceed to trial.  During the trial, both sides present the evidence collected beforehand to a panel of jurors or legal judge who will rule based on the facts presented.  There is no “trial by ambush” like you see in the movies.  Each lawyer must disclose the evidence to the other side in what is called “discovery”.  Generally, discovery lasts for 6 months from the date that the defendant’s Answer (response) is filed.  Discovery can be extended or shortened either by agreement of the lawyers or by a court order.
Depending on the issues at hand, trials can span days or even weeks.  At the end of the case, a verdict will be made for one or the other party, and the judge will “enter” the verdict.  Participants at trial are typically represented by one or more attorneys but can also represent themselves.  The legal term for self-representation at trial is “Pro Se.”
Whichever legal proceeding you may be facing, being armed with the knowledge of the process can provide comfort when faced with a lawsuit.  If you are involved in a lawsuit, you are entitled to consult with an attorney who has specialized knowledge of the processes and procedures you will be facing.
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Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into depositions, mediation, and trials.