At the 2016 ACE conference, a panel discussed the importance of the verdict sheet in civil litigation. The panel was:
- Darryl Wilson -Anderson, Crawley & Burke, Plc
- Alan Yacoubian – Johnson, Yacoubian & Paysse
- Howard Shafer – Shafer Glazer, LLP
- Rocky Feemster – Touchstone Bernays
- Broderick Young – Arnett, Draper & Hagood
- Evan Jones – Landrum & Shouse, LLP
There are significant differences between the states when it comes to how they view issues like comparative negligence, joint and several liability, and contributory negligence. It is important to fully understand these differences so that the verdict sheet can focus on the appropriate issues. The language used in the verdict sheet can be the key to the outcome of the litigation.
The first thing outlined in the verdict form are the parties involved in the litigation. This is not quite as simple as it seems as sometimes additional parties end up getting brought into the litigation as the case progresses. It is important to list all parties possible because when it comes to apportioning liability between the parties this can have a significant impact on the exposure to any particular party. Some states require all parties on the jury sheet to actually be parties in the litigation, while other states allow even non-parties to be listed for apportionment purposes. Non-parties may include parties who already settled out, a phantom vehicle that was not identified, or some other person who was not identified.
Jury sheets will provide an opportunity to first address whether the plaintiff and defendant had any negligence in causing the accident. It then asks the jury to apportion fault between all parties. The jury then reviews all the actual damages claimed and awards damages in different categories. This includes past and future damages.
In many states, if the plaintiff is 50% or more responsible for the accident then they cannot recover any damages.
Most jurisdictions have done away with joint and several liability in civil trials. Under this rule, if the plaintiff is found to be 1% at fault they cannot recover. On the flip side, a defendant found only 1% liable for the award could end up paying the entire award if they are the only party with the money.
When it comes to damages, it is important to know the actual amount of medical damages not the gross amount. For example, a hospital may bill services at a certain rate but no one actually pays that rate for the services. Instead they always accept a negotiated lesser amount from insurance companies and even less from someone without insurance. There is an ongoing debate around the nation about whether it is ethical to list gross amount of medical bills as damages when they know the medical provider will accept a lesser amount.