Thorne Barrett Obtains Reversal of Trial Court Decision
Thorne Barrett obtains a reversal of a trial judge’s decision to increase a jury’s verdict. The appeal was of an automobile accident case in which Shannon Bobertz represented the defendant at trial. The defendant admitted fault for the accident, but Bobertz challenged the bulk of the damages claimed by the plaintiff, which exceeded $10,000. After Bobertz obtained favorable concessions from the plaintiff during cross-examination, the jury returned a verdict of only $3,023.90. However, the trial judge granted the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial nisi additur. This meant the plaintiff would be granted a new trial unless the defendant agreed to pay the verdict amount plus an additional $12,500. The client decided to appeal the trial judge’s decision. Relying on one of his previous appeals, which involved similar facts, Barrett argued the trial judge abused his discretion by granting additur. South Carolina law only allows a trial judge to disturb a jury’s verdict when there are “compelling reasons” to do so. In this case, the trial judge stated the jury’s failure to award the plaintiff all of her claimed damages justified his decision. As Barrett pointed out, however, Bobertz had challenged most of those damages at trial, which meant the jury could decide whether or not to award them. The Court of Appeals agreed with this argument. As a result, the court reversed the trial judge’s decision and reinstated the jury’s original verdict. In making this decision, the court clarified that a jury’s failure to award damages that were disputed at trial does not provide a “compelling reason” for a new trial nisi additur under South Carolina law.