• January 26, 2015

VERDICT FORMWhen is a verdict a “special verdict” when a “general verdict”? How about the one linked here? Which is that?

Easy, right? If you had a peek at the linked document, it says right on it, “Special Verdict Form.”

But what is a “special verdict”? What is a “general verdict”? Why does anyone care?

Titles can be confusing (and can be just plain wrong).

A general verdict is one by which the jury find generally upon all the issues in favor of the plaintiff or defendant. A special verdict is one by which they find the facts only, and it shall so present the conclusions of fact as established by the evidence that nothing remains to the court but to draw from them conclusions of law.

Minn. Stat. 546.19.

In other words, a general verdict is a verdict that leaves nothing further for the court to do. The simplest general verdict reads, either, “We the jury find for the plaintiff and assess damages at the sum of $_____,” or “We the jury find for the defendant.”

A “special verdict,” on the other hand, would have no conclusions of law. It might read, “Was the contract, Exhibit 1, signed and delivered to plaintiff by A as agent for defendant? __YES   ___NO.”

I would submit to you that the Klapmeier verdict, though called a “Special Verdict Form” is actually more a general verdict than a special verdict. The verdict does not require the court to draw any conclusions of law at all in contrast to a “special verdict.” The verdict makes findings in favor of the plaintiff and awards damages to the plaintiff.

But why does the distinction matter?

It matters because the timing and the process for post-trial motions differs for “general verdicts” and “special verdicts.”

A notice of motion for a new trial shall be served within 30 days after a general verdict or service of notice by a party of the filing of the decision or order; and the motion shall be heard within 60 days after such general verdict or notice of filing, unless the time for hearing be extended by the court within the 60-day period for good cause shown.

And the 1968 advisory committee notes on the rule provide:

Special verdicts under Rule 49.01 and general verdict with interrogatories under Rule 49.02 are not “verdicts” within Rule 59.03, but are verdict forms looking toward a decision or order by the trial judge prior to the time that it is an effective conclusion to the litigation. Rule 58.01 clearly imposes upon the trial judge the obligation of directing the appropriate judgment upon a special verdict or upon a general verdict accompanied by interrogatories. Time will not commence running on either a Rule 49.01 verdict or a Rule 49.02 verdict until notice has been given by a party of the filing of the decision or order following such verdicts. In like respect, the report of a referee is subject to the time limitation for decisions or order of the court.

Failure to meet the time limit of Rule 59.03 deprives the trial court of jurisdiction to hear and rule on the post-trial motion. Therefore, failure to appreciate the difference between a general verdict and a special verdict, in theory, could have serious ramifications for a party trying to get out from under a bad verdict.

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