Ryan v. Crown Castle NG Networks, Inc.

Plaintiff was entitled to a new trial because the jury’s damages award did not match the cause of action on which the jury found liability.  The trial court erred in denying plaintiff’s motion for a new trial on inadequate damages.  The trial court erroneously failed to weigh the evidence as a 13th juror, thinking it needed to defer to the jury’s assessment of the case.  Instead, the trial court should have weighed the evidence independently, making its own credibility decisions and drawing its own inferences.  After doing so, it should have decided from the entire record whether the jury clearly should have reached a different verdict.  Here, a new trial should have been ordered because the damages awarded did not match the cause of action on which the jury found liability.  The jury awarded tort damages but found for the plaintiff only on his contract cause of action.  The opinion points out the danger of special verdict forms that track the elements of the claim but do so in generalities that can be misinterpreted.  E.g., did employer make a promise, was the promise false?  The employer obviously promised employment and that promise was not false.  But plaintiff alleged a different promise—of a bonus of shares of stock.

California Court of Appeal, Sixth District (Rushing, P.J.); December 13, 2016; 2016 WL 7217274

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