How is a Civil Trial Decided?

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "How is a Civil Trial Decided?," in The Business Professor, updated January 6, 2015, last accessed April 7, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/how-is-a-civil-trial-decided/.
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How a Civil Trial is Decided
This video explains what happens at the end of a civil trial, such as a finding of liability, JNOV, and Appeal.

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How is a civil trial decided?

At the conclusion of all evidence and arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable law to apply to the facts. This is known as “charging the jury”. The jury charge explains the state of the law to the jury. The jury will use this law when determining liability.

Following the jury instruction by the judge, the jury will recess to deliberate about the facts and apply them to the applicable law. The jury must find that the facts demonstrate each element required by the statute consistent with the burden of proof. The jury must be persuaded that the facts have merit.

After deliberation, the jury will return with a verdict of liable or not liable on all of the plaintiff’s claims. If the jury find’s liability, there may be a separate presentation of evidence by the parties regarding damages. The jury will deliberate to determine damages to award based upon the finding of liability. The jury will then deliver the verdict to the judge.

The judge, if satisfied that all procedural requirements are met, will enter a judgment on the verdict. The losing party will generally move the court for a directed verdict in contrast to the jury’s findings, known as a “judgment non obstante veredicto”. This is also known a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict” or (“JNOV”).

Judges rarely grant JNOV motions. At the same time, the losing party will generally request permission from the court to file an appeal to the appellate court. If done in a timely manner, requests to appeal are routinely granted. The trial process is now closed.

The appellate court will review the losing party’s request for appeal (along with the record of trial). If the appeal is denied, the case is closed. If the appeal is granted, the appellate process begins.

Discussion: Do you think this is a fair and just manner of determining a party’s liability? Why do you think the judge has the authority to override the jury’s verdict? Why do you think the judge rarely exercises this authority?

Discussion Input

  • Some would argue that, in general, a jury lacks the knowledge and skill necessary to appropriately determine liability. These individuals would argue that a judge or panel of judges should be the finders of fact in a jury trial. Others would argue that this is the only fair manner of litigating an issue. The judge retains the authority to override a jury’s verdict if the judgment runs afoul of principles of law or equity (fairness). Judges rarely exercise this authority, as scenarios where a jury’s verdict runs afoul of principles of law or equity is rare.

Practice Question: Todd is being sued by Nancy. The judge provides a clear description of the law to the jury, including all of the elements necessary to find Todd liable. The jury ultimately finds Todd liable to Nancy. After the jury announces its verdict, what are Todd’s options?

Proposed Answer

  • Todd will move the court for a directed verdict despie the jury’s findings, which is also known as a “judgment non obstante veredicto” or (“JNOV”).  At the same time, Todd will request permission from the court to file an appeal to the appellate court. The request needs to be made in a timely manner (generally before the hearing is dismissed or within 3 days) for it to be granted. The trial process is not completely closed if the permission to appeal is granted. The appellate court will review Todd’s request for appeal (along with the record of trial). If the appeal is denied, the case is closed. If the appeal is granted, the appellate process begins.

Academic Resarch

Cohen, Thomas H., When is the Verdict or Judgment Final?: An Examination of Post Trial Activity in Civil Litigation (July 10, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1432567 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1432567

Abramowicz, Michael B., A Compromise Approach to Compromise Verdicts (March 2001). California Law Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, 2001; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-88; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-88. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2282605

Robertson, Cassandra Burke, Judging Jury Verdicts. Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-23; 83 Tulane Law Review 157 (2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1001732

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