L. LYNNE HALL v. STANLEY BERGMAN et al., SC 18155

Judicial District of Waterbury

 

      Trial Court Procedure; General Verdict Rule; Damages; Whether the Trial Court Properly Set Aside a General Verdict in Favor of the Plaintiff on the Ground that the Jury Awarded the Plaintiff Zero Damages.  In 1995, the plaintiff agreed to rent a condominium pursuant to a lease agreement that she had entered into with the defendant, Stuart Cohn.  The plaintiff subsequently brought this action, claiming, among other things, that Cohn had threatened her and had engaged in other forms of misconduct.  She asserted claims for unjust enrichment, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The jury initially returned two verdict forms concerning Cohn, one of which contained both a typewritten statement indicating that it had found in favor of Cohn and a handwritten statement that simply included the words "Count One: Unjust Enrichment."  The second verdict form contained typewritten language stating that the jury had found Cohn liable to the plaintiff, and it further indicated that the plaintiff was entitled to zero damages.  The second form also included the handwritten words "Count Three: Negligent Infliction of harm.  (a), (d)" and "Count Four: Intentional Infliction of harm (a), (d)."  After the trial court informed the jury that it was supposed to complete only one verdict form as to Cohn, the jury returned a new verdict form, rendering a general verdict in favor of the plaintiff but awarding no damages.  The court set aside the jury's verdict and ordered a new trial, after which Cohn appealed, arguing that, in setting aside the verdict, the court improperly consulted the first set of jury forms in order to interpret the meaning of the jury's subsequent verdict.  The Appellate Court (106 Conn. App. 660) initially determined that the trial court improperly consulted the first set of verdict forms when it decided to set aside the verdict.  In doing so, it first noted that the parties had agreed not to submit interrogatories to the jury and that they therefore sought a general verdict.  It then opined that when the court consulted the first set of verdict forms, it in effect utilized them as if they were interrogatories in order to construe the meaning of the jury's ultimate decision.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, however, the Appellate Court concluded that the decision to set aside the verdict was proper under the general verdict rule, which required it to presume that the jury found every issue in favor of the plaintiff.  It explained that the jury's decision to award zero damages, as opposed to nominal damages, was inherently ambiguous given that it had found all of the issues for the plaintiff.  Accordingly, it held that, in light of this inconsistency, the trial court properly set aside the verdict.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's decision was correct.