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Delivering a Verdict in Civil Litigation

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  • 0:06 Just How Does a Civil…
  • 2:12 Types of Verdicts
  • 4:54 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

In any court case, the end result is a verdict. However, there are several roads that lead to the verdict, including motion to dismiss, directed verdict, special verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Just How Does a Civil Case End?

Have you ever gone to the hair salon only for it to end in a horrible hair experience? Penelope experienced just that! After doing some online research about the best salons in her area, Penelope decided on Looking Good Salon for her new permanent wave.

Serena the hairdresser seemed competent enough. So, in a frenzy of curls and whirls, Penelope's hair was wrapped and ready for the treatment. Everything seemed okay until Penelope noticed a foul odor emitting from her locks...like the smell of burnt hair! Serena quickly doused Penelope's head with water and assessed the damage. You guessed it - Penelope lost most of her hair to a violent chemical reaction.

Penelope waged a civil lawsuit against Looking Good Salon, specifically Serena, for negligence by irreparable damage to her hair. In a civil trial like this, Penelope is the plaintiff, the person initiating the lawsuit, and she hopes for a jury to decide in her favor. Serena is the defendant, the one who allegations have been levied against.

At the end of the civil trial, a decision will be made either for or against the plaintiff, Penelope. The decision, whether made by a jury or a judge, is called a verdict and is nothing more than a formal decision on the case. It is fairly cut and dry in most cases. But when a jury or a judge considers the outcome in a civil case, there are a couple of things that come into play: evidence presented by either party and properly applying the law.

Evidence is presented and may include testimony, or an account of facts about the case, documentation or objects related to the case, that serve as grounds to prove or disprove something. The jury or judge must also properly apply the law to the case. This means that the jury must understand the allegations and how the law views the same.

Perhaps Serena does not hold a hairdressing license and was taking matters into her own hands. The law will most likely side with the plaintiff because a license is necessary to work with hair. There are a few types of verdicts used in a civil trial. Let's explore a few to better understand their purpose.

Types of Verdicts

There are several types of verdicts that are imposed in a civil trial:

  • General Verdict
  • Special Verdict
  • Directed Verdict
  • Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict

The most common type of verdict is the general verdict. This will quite possibly be the verdict used in Penelope's case. This verdict comes down from the jury in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant. Liability is determined and an amount of damages is decided.

Another verdict type is the special verdict and is saved for more complex questions of fact. With this type of verdict, a judge will provide jurors with very specific questions regarding the case. Once the jury answers the questions, the judge will review and decide on the verdict. The purpose of a special verdict is to decide on smaller issues within a larger court case.

To say it a different way, suppose Penelope accused Serena of several different things, making the case more complex. It may be necessary to break the case down into smaller parts and have a jury answer questions specifically about each and every component of the case.

A directed verdict is given when a judge, after listening to the plaintiff, decides that no legal case exists and rules in favor of the defendant because there was not sufficient evidence to prove the case. If Serena followed the product directions, possessed a license to perform the treatment, and violated no laws in doing so, Penelope would have a difficult time providing enough evidence that Serena was at fault.

After all, the burden of proof, or the duty to prove or dispute the facts of the case, is always placed on the plaintiff. In legalese, it is called preponderance of evidence and can be remembered as the standard of proof needed for the plaintiff to actually win the case. The evidence must be enough to convince a jury that the allegations are more likely true than false.

Sadly, not every civil trial ends in a clean verdict. There are times when the jury simply cannot make a clear choice. This hung jury is unable to reach a decision. When this occurs, a mistrial is declared and a new trial must begin.

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