THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
Evelyn Brumley Vinson, Respondent,
Ruby McLemore Jackson, Petitioner.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
Appeal From Darlington County
Ralph King Anderson, Jr., Judge
Opinion No. 24684
Heard January 11, 1996 - Filed September 2, 1997
REVERSED AND REMANDED
Jack L. Nettles and Clifford C. McBride, both of Nettles &
Nettles, P.A., of Florence, for petitioner.
Martin S. Driggers, of Driggers & Baxley, of Hartsville and
Finley B. Clarke, of Florence, for respondent.
Finney, C.J.: We granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals'
decision in Vinson v. Jackson, 317 S.C. 166, 452 S.E.2d 16 (Ct. App. 1994). We
reverse and remand for a new trial.
A jury trial was held to determine the liability for damages
resulting from an automobile collision. Evelyn Vinson introduced evidence of the
following damages: medical bills $6,919.28; lost wages $2,700; pain, suffering
and scars. Ruby Jackson counterclaimed for $3,000 in property damages.
The trial judge gave the jury three verdict forms to choose from.
Verdict Form # 1 was to be used if the jury found for Vinson, Verdict Form # 2
was to be used if the jury found for Jackson on her counterclaim and Verdict
Form # 3 was to be used if the jury found for Jackson on Vinson's claim. After
VINSON v. JACKSON
the jury began deliberations, they asked the judge to re-charge the law on
comparative negligence. Subsequently, the jury returned the following verdict
using Form # 2:
WE, THE JURY, FIND FOR THE DEFENDANT(S)
Ruby McLamora [sic] Jackson - 49%, AGAINST THE
PLAINTIFF(S) Evelyn Brumley Vinson - 51% ON THE
COUNTERCLAIM IN THE SUM OF fifteen thousand,
one hundred twenty six dollars and nine cents.
DOLLARS, ACTUAL DAMAGES.
The jury was dismissed without objection to the verdict.
Afterwards, Vinson's attorney asked to have the verdict repeated. Vinson
insisted the jury must have used the wrong form, because the evidence did not
support damages for Jackson in the amount listed by the jury. Jackson argued
the verdict form indicated the jury found in favor of Jackson on her
counterclaim. The trial judge entered a verdict for Vinson (plaintiff) against
Jackson (defendant) because he was convinced the jury intended to award
damages to Vinson. Jackson moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict
and alternatively for a new trial or new trial nisi. Her motion was denied.
On appeal, a majority of the Court of Appeals affirmed and found
that although the jury used the verdict form stating "we find for the defendant"
the evidence logically showed the jury intended to find in favor of plaintiff
Vinson. Judge Goolsby dissented, finding that since the jury used Form # 2, the
verdict was for Jackson on her counterclaim. We agree with the dissent and
find the trial court erred in amending the verdict.
The verdict form expressly states the jury found for defendant
Jackson on the counterclaim, however the amount awarded for actual damages
is unexplainable. On its face, the verdict indicates the jury found Jackson 49%
at fault and Vinson 51% at fault. The verdict becomes ambiguous when the
damages awarded are considered in light of the evidence presented. Jackson
only counterclaimed for $3,000.
Once the jury in a civil case is discharged, the trial judge has little
power to correct or amend a jury's verdict which, on its face, is unambiguous.
See Anderson v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 175 S.C. 254, 178 S.E. 819 (1935).
"A jury verdict should be upheld when it is possible to do so and carry into
effect the jury's clear intention. However, when a verdict is so confused that the
VINSON v. JACKSON
jury's intent is unclear, the safest and best course is to order a new trial."
Johnson v. Parker, 279 S.C. 132, 303 S.E.2d 95 (1983). The verdict is internally
inconsistent and unexplainable. Accordingly, the appropriate remedy on appeal
is to grant a new trial. We reverse and remand for a new trial.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
TOAL, MOORE, WALLER and BURNETT, JJ., concur.