How a judge can decide a case regardless of what the jury does

 

By Jedidiah McKeehan

Say there is a car wreck case that goes to trial. For almost all car wreck cases, there is a jury of 12 individuals who sit and listen to the witnesses testify and hear all of the evidence presented as part of the case.

After both sides have presented all of their evidence, the jurors are put in a conference room and asked to come to a decision on whether the plaintiff (the person suing) is entitled to any money from the defendant (the person being sued), and if they believe they are entitled to any money, the jury decides how much money the plaintiff is entitled to receive.

Say the jury awards the plaintiff $50,000.00. Then the jury’s decision will be announced to the judge and the parties, and then the jurors will be dismissed from jury duty and are able to return to their normal lives. In many cases, that will be the end of the discussion about the judgment awarded. However, that is not always the case.

Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-10-101 and 20-10-102 allow the judge to change the amount of the verdict if the judge believes that the jury came up with the wrong amount as the verdict they reached. For example, if the judge believes that the jury should have awarded the plaintiff $100,000 instead of $50,000, the judge can recommend an additur (an addition to the verdict amount).

Similarly, if the judge believes that the jury should have only awarded the plaintiff $20,000 instead of $50,000, the judge can recommend a remittitur (a subtraction to the verdict amount).

The judge can only make this as a suggestion to the parties, not an order. The party who would be worse off by the judge’s recommendation has two options. They can either accept the judge’s recommendation, or they can allow a new trial to take place. So, for example, if the judge recommends an additur to $100,000 from the initial $50,000 verdict, the defendant and his attorney can either accept $100,000 as the new verdict amount, or they can allow the plaintiff to have a new trial to try the whole case all over again and take another shot at getting a better outcome.

Seems crazy that a judge would throw out what a jury would decide, but this does happen occasionally where a judge believes that the jury simply came to the wrong conclusion and steps in to try to correct what has occurred.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, divorce, custody, personal injury, landlord-tenant, civil litigation and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.

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