Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
When an excessive verdict is given, it is usual for the judge to suggest to counsel to agree on a sum, to prevent the necessity of a new trial. In the absence of agreement the court has no power to reduce the damages to a reasonable sum instead of ordering a new trial. Where the damages are too small, the court cannot with the defendant's consent increase them, if the plaintiff asks for a new trial.
This is an action brought by Schiedt against Dimick in the federal district court for the district of Massachusetts to recover damages for a personal injury resulting from the alleged negligent operation of an automobile on a public highway in Massachusetts. The jury returned a verdict in favor of respondent for the sum of $ 500. Schiedt moved for a new trial on the grounds that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence, that it was a compromise verdict, and that the damages allowed were inadequate. The trial court ordered a new trial upon the last named ground, unless Dimick would consent to an increase of the damages to the sum of $ 1500. Schiedt’s consent was neither required nor given. Dimick, however, consented to the increase, and in accordance with the order of the court a denial of the motion for new trial automatically followed. Schiedt appealed to the circuit court of appeals, where the judgment was reversed, the court holding that the conditional order violated the Seventh Amendment of the Federal Constitution in respect of the right of trial by jury.
Did the trial court violate Schiedt’s right to a trial by jury?
While there was some practice to the contrary in respect of decreasing damages, the established practice and the rule of the common law, as it existed in England at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, forbade the court to increase the amount of damages awarded by a jury in actions such as that here under consideration. When, therefore, the trial court here found that the damages awarded by the jury were so inadequate as to entitle plaintiff to a new trial, how can it be held, with any semblance of reason, that that court, with the consent of the defendant only, may, by assessing an additional amount of damages, bring the constitutional right of the plaintiff to a jury trial to an end in respect of a matter of fact which no jury has ever passed upon either explicitly or by implication? To so hold is obviously to compel the plaintiff to forego his constitutional right to the verdict of a jury and accept "an assessment partly made by a jury which has acted improperly, and partly by a tribunal which has no power to assess."