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Deference to the jury – it’s not on the law but discretionary balancing.

January 1, 2019
Vatalaro v. County of Suffolk, 163 A.D.3d 891, 81 N.Y.S.3d 444 (App Div. 2d Dept 2018

The court denied the defendant’s CPLR 4404(a) motion to set aside a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant’s motion to set aside was on the issue of liability. The plaintiff commenced a wrongful death action as a result of a motor vehicle accident involving a Suffolk County Transit bus operated by the defendant William R. Dortch. The plaintiff presented evidence that the vehicle operated by the decedent was traveling west and that the bus operated by Dortch was traveling east at an excessive rate of speed when it crossed a double-yellow line into the decedent’s lane of travel. The defendants presented evidence that the decedent’s vehicle entered from a side street controlled by a stop sign, crossed in front of the bus operated by Mr. Dortch, who had the right of way and who took evasive action but was unable to avoid striking the decedent’s vehicle. The jury returned a verdict finding Dortch negligent, his negligence proximately caused the accident, and that the plaintiff was not negligent.

 

The Appellate Division found the weight of the evidence was not so in the favor of the defendant that the verdict could not have been reached by a fair interpretation of the evidence. The Appellate Division further held that resolving the motion did not involve a question of law, but required its discretionary balancing of factors, which included giving great deference to the jury in determining the credibility of witnesses. Here, the jury determined Mr. Dortch was solely liable for the accident. That determination was supported since the plaintiff presented eyewitness and expert testimony, as well as photographs depicting the damage to the bus.
 

Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2019

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