In April, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed an Order of the Queens County Supreme Court setting aside a jury verdict in a personal injury action as a matter of law. The case involved a fall sustained by a firefighter during a training exercise in the defendant’s building. As he was descending a staircase, the plaintiff slipped on debris. As he was falling, he attempted to stop his fall by grabbing the stairway’s handrail. He failed in grabbing the handrail, and fell down the stairs, injuring himself in the process.
During the Supreme Court trial, the plaintiff’s expert contended that because the bannister was directly flush with the wall, with no space between, it was both defective and in violation of two sections of New York Administrative Code. The jury agreed with the plaintiff’s version of the events, and found the defendant liable for the paintiff’s injuries. The judge disagreed, however, and granted the defendant’s motion to set aside the jury verdict as a matter of law.
For a court to rule in favor of setting aside a jury verdict, the judge must find that no valid logic would lead a rational person to reach the same conclusion that the jury reached after its deliberations. In essence, the court must find that, based on the evidence presented, the jury’s findings are irrational. This is a difficult burden to overcome, because both sides have the opportunity to question potential jurors during voire dire. Therefore, the side moving to set aside the jury verdict must prove that this presumably rational jury made an irrational finding.
The Second Department disagreed with the trial court. It stated that the jury’s finding was,in fact, one that a rational jury could have reached. The jury’s finding of the defendant’s liability constituted a fair interpretation of the evidence presented at trial. The Appellate Division remitted the matter to the lower court for a trial on damages.