A man fell off a ladder and died. It is as tragic as it is improbable. But the improbable did not stop there. When a jury had to decide whether his death was the result of a dreadful accident or a design defect in the ladder’s locking mechanism, it found there was no defect but held the ladder’s manufacturer partially liable all the same.
Adding to the list of improbabilities in this case, the company’s attorneys did not immediately object to the inconsistent verdict. And that was a fatal flaw in their effort to overturn it, said the Florida Supreme Court. An objection must be put on the record right away so as to give the jury a chance correct its inconsistency one way or the other. Otherwise, the judgment will stand.
While that may seem like a harsh result (most bright-line rules tend to be at times), the Supremes preferred it to the alternatives: conducting a whole new trial from scratch, or having a judge or appellate panel try to guess which half of the verdict the jury would have changed.
This also stresses the advantages of involving appellate-minded attorneys from the start. Having an appellate lawyer at counsel’s table means having someone on the lookout for issues of law popping up throughout a trial, with an eye on preserving grounds for appeal.