Can a Washington, D.C. Judge Override a Jury’s Verdict in a Personal Injury Case?

In most Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, the jury makes the final decision as to whether the defendant is liable, and the judge aids the jury in making this determination by ruling on preliminary issues and then instructs the jury on the appropriate law. However, in some rare cases, a judge can grant a party’s motion for judgment as a matter of law after a jury has rendered a verdict, essentially reversing the jury’s decision.

When granted, these motions are almost always appealed. Thus, post-verdict motions for judgment as a matter of law are typically only allowed if the judge believes that the jury decided the case incorrectly. A recent federal appellate case illustrates the high bar a party must meet when seeking such a motion.

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case, the plaintiff was a guest at a friend’s wedding, which was held at the defendant resort. As the night progressed, several of the guests decided they would jump into the resort’s pool, which was near the dance floor. As guests ran from the dance floor to the pool and back, the floor became wet.

An employee with the resort approached the groom, expressing concern over the guests’ behavior. She told the groom that it was not safe to be on a wet dance floor and that the groom should ask his guests to stop while resort employees cleaned up the floor. Instead, the groom brushed the employee aside, ran into a nearby kitchen to grab some dish soap, and squirted it on the dance floor to create a slip-and-slide. At no time did a resort employee tell guests to stop engaging in dangerous behavior.

The plaintiff was walking across the dance floor to change into her bathing suit when she slipped and fell. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the resort, arguing that the resort failed to keep the area safe for wedding guests. The resort claimed that it was not responsible for the slippery conditions and, although it was aware of the hazard, it took reasonable efforts to remedy the situation by speaking with the groom.

The court agreed with the resort, and affirmed the jury’s verdict. The court explained that hotels and resorts are responsible for maintaining a safe location for guests, but that they are not “absolute insurers of a guest’s well-being.” The court held that the jury was presented with conflicting evidence, which it resolved in the resort’s favor. Given the facts as they were presented, the court explained that the lower court was correct to deny the plaintiff’s motion.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. At the Washington, D.C. personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC we represent accident victims and their family members in cases against those responsible for their injuries. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 410-654-3600 today.

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