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Appellate court orders reinstatement of jury verdict

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Finding a trial judge erred when granting a new trial because he didn’t make specific findings in setting aside a jury verdict, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and ordered the jury verdict reinstated.

In American Family Home Insurance Co. v. Rick Bonta, No. 64A04-1008-CT-516, Rick Bonta sued Laura Morales and his insurer American Family Home Insurance Co. after he was injured in an accident with uninsured Morales. At trial, the jury found Bonta 55 percent at fault for his damages and Morales 45 percent at fault. Bonta filed a motion for judgment on the evidence and asked for a judgment in his favor or a new trial. The trial court set aside the jury verdict and granted the new trial, finding the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The trial judge noted he was acting as a “thirteenth juror” by ordering the new trial.

After determining that American Family had standing to appeal the order, the Court of Appeals had to decide whether the trial judge made his decision under Indiana Trial Rule 50(C) or Rule 59(J). If under 50(C), the judge may grant a new trial and doesn’t have to support the findings, but if the judge made the decision under Rule 59(J), the judge must support the decision with written findings.

The order didn’t specify whether the trial court granted the motion based on Rule 50(C) or 59(J). The appellate court concluded that the judge’s order was granting relief pursuant to 59(J). The order said that the jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that the judge was acting as a 13th juror when ordering the new trial, but the order didn’t include special findings or other explanation, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The judges concluded that the proper remedy in this situation, citing Walker v. Pullen, 943 N.E.2d 349 (Ind. 2011), is to reinstate the jury verdict.

“While we understand that this result may seem harsh as a litigant may be disadvantaged not through his own fault but because a trial court failed to follow all the precedential requirements, we are not the proper court to formulate an alternative,” wrote Judge Riley.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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