New Trial Ordered in Brooklyn Car Accident Case After Jury Verdict Sheet Deemed Unclear

caraccident.jpgIn Ki Tak Song v Oizumit the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a jury verdict for the defendants and ordered a new trial after it found that the jury was confused when filling out its verdict sheet. The Plaintiff, Ki Tak Song, was suing the plaintiffs Yoko Oizumi and Daniel Oizumi for personal injuries he allegedly suffered in a car accident. Daniel Oizumi was driving Yoko Oizumi’s vehicle when it allegedly struck Song’s vehicle from the rear. The jury originally found that the defendant’s were negligent but that their negligence was not a substantial factor causing the injury to Song. Song’s appeal was based on the fact that the jury had filled out two copies of the verdict sheet and that there was evidence that they were confused as to the questions on the first sheet.

A verdict sheet is presented to jurors after the completion of a trial and it presents them with questions about the case which they must answer. In this case the answers on the first verdict sheet were inconsistent. The court had, without further instructions to the jury and without consulting the parties, given the jury a second verdict sheet despite the fact that the answers on the first sheet were internally inconsistant. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the verdict was a product of jury confusion and is inherently inconsistent as a matter of law.

After the verdict was entered the court informed the parties that the verdict was based on answers given by the jury on a second verdict sheet because the jury had been confused by the first verdict sheet and had made a mistake on it. The court told the parties that they had instructed the court officer to give the jury another copy of the verdict sheet to the jury without convening the jury or speaking directly to it. Therefore there was no chance for the court to give the jury instructions on properly filling out the sheet or on the meaning of the questions contained within it. There was also no chance for the parties to challenge any instructions made or examine the first verdict sheet.
The court at this time told the parties that the jury was “scratching out on the first page” and that the jurors would be initialing the mistakes it had made on the first sheet. However, when the party’s saw the first verdict sheet after the verdict was entered they saw that what the jury had done was not a simple mistake but a change which covered up an inconsistency on the first sheet. The first sheet asked the jurors “Were the defendants negligent?” next to the question was one signature, normally all jurors will check off either yes or no and sign. Also next to the question all the jurors had put an X next to the answer “no” and a check mark next to the answer “yes.” The “yes” was then crossed out and initialed next to.

The form also asked the jurors “Was the negligence of the defendants a substantial factor in causing the accident?” Next to this question the jurors had written an X next to no. However, the instructions told them that if they decided the defendant’s negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the accident then they should not answer the subsequent questions including one which allocated blame between the defendants and the plaintiff. They went on to answer these questions, allotting 20% of the blame to the defendants. This implies that the instructions on the form were unclear.

While juries have a right to alter their verdict if it is recorded incorrectly so that it matches their true intentions in this case the court found that because the first sheet was internally inconsistent, and because the jury had failed to initial several of the questions, the Supreme Court had erred in failing to direct the jury to reconsider its original verdict before giving the second verdict sheet to the jury. Therefore the Appellate Court ordered that the judgment be reversed and the case sent for a new trial.

Ki Tak Song v Oizumi, 2014 NY Slip Op 05775