Saturday, July 28, 2007
Some jurors used a slide rule and looked up the inflation rate to help them determine how much to award in wrongful death case.Nebraska Supreme Court affirms verdict of only $46k for wrongful death of a woman in her late teens. Poppe v. Siefker, S-05-670, 274 Neb. 1 Family members of woman killed in head-on collision on Interstate 80 with suicidal driver sued and the Lancaster County district court jury awarded them $46k. Plaintiffs appealed arguing the verdict was too low and the result of jurors' improper reliance on outside aids to help them calculate the present value of their award. Nebraska Supreme Court agrees that the plaintiffs failed to present clear and convincing evidence that some jurors' use of a financial slide rule and inflation rate on a post-it note presented a reasonable likelihood that the extraneous materials prejudiced the plaintiff. Although Nebraska jury instructions ask jurors to reduce their damage awards to present value, the instructions don't tell jurors how to do it. In this case, neither side offered evidence on how to do this either. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirms the verdict because although the slide rule and inflation rate were not in evidence, the court cant determine whether the jurors' use of the aids hurt or even helped the Plaintiffs. "Given that the jury was not provided any evidence on present value, nor instructed as to how present value was to be calculated, the personal financial slide calculator and the handwritten inflation rate could not have contradicted any of the evidence presented at trial. Nor could the jury have given undue weight to these items, while disregarding other evidence adduced at trial, because there simply was no evidence presented on this issue."