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Juries vs. Judges – My Opinion

Apr5

A recent decision made by the Court of Special Appeals in the case of Yiallouros v. Tolson. http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2012/2773s10.pdf is noteworthy for a few reasons:

  • Its treatment of expert testimony
  • The discretion of trial courts when considering motions for new trials
  • For vindicating the plaintiffs’ expert witness with regards to her qualifications, factual findings, opinions, logic, reasoning, and prognostication

The facts of the case are pretty straightforward. Mr. Tolson caused a motor vehicle accident in which Mr. Yiallouros was badly injured. A Montgomery County jury found for Mr. Yiallouros and awarded him and his wife damages totaling $925,000. But then the trial judge granted a motion for new trial, citing unusual grounds – that the opinions of the plaintiffs’ vocational counselor, Lianne Friedman, were “nonsense,” should not have been admitted, and must have poisoned the jury.

Before retrial, Ms. Friedman underwent a Frye/Reed hearing, after which her testimony was allowed. At the second trial, however, the defense won on a finding of contributory negligence.

Fortunately for the plaintiffs in this case, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the order granting a new trial, reinstating the finding of liability and most of the original award for damages. The case has been remanded for a new trial on non-economic damages only.

In this case, both courts found that when the jury found $224, 010.16 for pain and suffering, and loss of consortium for a total verdict of $925,000, that it was an “exercise in arithmetic guesswork.” However, I don’t see any justification for that decision, which was the primary basis for sending the case back for a new verdict on damages.

I don’t see why just because the jury used the same number for both, and then came to a round number for the total verdict, that it indicated anything other than a group of disparate jury persons coming together and reaching a verdict each thought was fair and reasonable. I don’t see how the trial court or court of appeals could look at those numbers and then throw out the verdicts in their entirety.

I think that it is up to the jury, not the courts, to determine the amount of the verdicts. Just because the trial judge and the Court of Special Appeals disagree with the amount does not mean, in my opinion, that they should substitute their opinions for that of the jury. Otherwise, why not just abolish the concept of trial by jury entirely and let the trial and appellate courts decide how much the plaintiffs should receive.

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