Circuit Court for Worcester County Case No. 23-C-09-001099
Bell, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, Barbera, McDonald, JJ.
This case calls for us to explore the interplay between accepting a jury verdict and revising that verdict after the jury is dismissed, as well as, what to do when a verdict appears on its face to have internal inconsistencies. We hold that, for a jury verdict to be properly returned in open court, it must be orally announced, hearkened to by the jury, and subject to an opportunity to poll. Once these requirements are met, the verdict is then taken from the jury and, upon the entering of a judgment, becomes subject to a judge's revisory powers. Though in some instances revisory powers can be quite broad, they are much more limited when it comes to changing a jury verdict. Because a judge is forbidden from encroaching on the jury's fact-finding province, his discretion to revise a jury verdict pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-535 is permissible only to effectuate the true intent of the jury.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On July 4, 2008, Catherine Turner was employed as a professional taxi cab driver in Ocean City, Maryland. On that night she was making a left-hand turn at a stop light where she had a green arrow allowing her to proceed. At that same time, Direse Hastings was operating a motor vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Hastings ran a red light, striking the taxi cab operated by Turner.
Turner filed suit in Worcester County, and the case went to trial on September 27, 2010, based on theories of negligence and assault. Before beginning deliberations, the jury was given two verdict sheets—one for the negligence count and one for the assault count. The verdict sheet submitted for the negligence count contained four questions and is reproduced below:
1. Has it been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant, Direse Helen Hastings, was negligent?
IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "NO" TO QUESTION NO. 1, PLEASE TERMINATE YOUR DELIBERATIONS AND NOTIFY THE BAILIFF. IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "YES" TO QUESTION NO. 1, PLEASE RESPOND TO QUESTION NO. 2.
2. Has it been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff, Catherine Lynn Turner, was negligent in the operation of her motor vehicle and that such negligence on her part proximately caused or contributed to the motor vehicle accident referred to in the evidence?
IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "YES" TO QUESTION NO. 2, PLEASE TERMINATE YOUR DELIBERATIONS AND NOTIFY THE BAILIFF. IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "YES" TO QUESTION NO. 1 AND IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "NO" TO QUESTION NO. 2, PLEASE ANSWER QUESTION NO. 3.
3. Has it been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Catherine Lynn Turner sustained injuries as a result of the motor vehicle accident referred to in the evidence?
IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "NO" TO QUESTION NO. 3, PLEASE TERMINATE YOUR DELIBERATIONS AND NOTIFY THE BAILIFF. IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED "YES" TO QUESTION NO. 3, PLEASE ANSWER QUESTION NO. 4.
4. What damages has the Plaintiff proven by a preponderance of the evidence?
a. Medical expenses incurred in the past: $ _____
b. Loss of income reasonably probable to have been incurred in the past: $ ____
c. Non-economic damages including pain and suffering: $ ____
d. Property damage to the taxi cab: $ _____
Upon reaching a verdict, the jury came back into the courtroom, the court clerk read the questions of the verdict sheet aloud from a blank copy, and the jury foreman answered using the completed copy. Apparently, before doing this, no one examined the full verdict sheet as completed by the jury. When the clerk asked the jury about Question 1, the foreman answered "Yes": Hastings was negligent. In response to Question 2, the foreman answered "No": Turner was not negligent. In response to Question 3, the foreman answered "No": Turner had not sustained injuries. Following the instructions on the verdict sheet, the clerk then stopped at Question 3 and did not ask Question 4. Moving to the second verdict sheet, she then asked whether Hastings had committed an assault, to which the foreman answered "No." The clerk then hearkened the jury to its verdict, rereading the first three questions on the negligence verdict sheet, the single question on the assault verdict sheet, and the jury foreman's answers to them, to which all jurors answered in the affirmative. The Court then dismissed the jury.
It was not until after the jury was dismissed that the judge received the jury's completed copy of the verdict sheet. Upon reviewing the verdict sheet, the judge discovered that the jury had gone on to answer Question 4 of the negligence count, which was filled in as follows:
a. Medical expenses incurred in the past: $325.00___
b. Loss of income reasonably probable to have been incurred in the ...