Oregon Civil Litigation: The Directed Verdict

As a Plaintiff works his way through an Oregon civil injury trial, there are many hurdles, and quite a few those hurdles involve overcoming defense motions. Prior to the trial, an insurance defense attorney may file a motion to dismiss the claim for several reasons. Even after the parties have exchanged information, the defense attorney may file a motion for summary judgment. Then, as the case goes to trial, the defense attorney may file motions to keep certain evidence from the jury.

After the plaintiff survives these motions, and puts on her case, she may also face a motion for a directed verdict. This is similar to a motion for summary judgment, and often involves only parts of the plaintiff’s claim.

As we explained in earlier articles, the skeleton of the plaintiff’s case is the complaint. Essentially, the plaintiff is making allegations of fact in the complaint. When the plaintiff gets to trial, she fleshes out these allegations by offering evidence to support each allegation. After the plaintiff puts on her evidence, she rests her case, and the defense attorney then looks to see whether not there is an opportunity for a full or partial directed verdict.

A directed verdict simply means that the defense is asking the court to direct a verdict in favor of the defendant on all or some of the allegations in the complaint. The standard for successfully arguing a directed verdict is that there is no evidence from which a jury could find that the plaintiff proved either all of or part of her case.  An insurance defense attorney can move for a directed verdict on all of the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, or move for a partial directed verdict, seeking to strike or remove certain allegations from the plaintiff’s complaint. Most directed verdicts at trial are seeking to take out or eliminate parts of the plaintiff’s complaint.

Let’s illustrate.

In most civil personal injury lawsuits, a plaintiff will allege more than one way in which a defendant was negligent. For example, in an auto collision case, a plaintiff may allege that the defendant was negligent in failing to keep a proper lookout for other cars on the highway, following too closely behind the plaintiff’s vehicle, and driving too fast under the conditions. The plaintiff needs only prove one of these “particulars of negligence” to overcome a directed verdict.

The plaintiff may call witnesses and offer other evidence to support the allegation that the defendant was driving too fast, and failing to keep a proper lookout. However, there may not be any evidence that the defendant was following too closely behind the plaintiff’s car. A defense attorney can, after the plaintiff rests her case, move for a directed verdict on that one particular allegation of negligence. The court then must review the evidence, giving the plaintiff every benefit of the doubt, to see if there is enough evidence for a jury to consider that particular allegation. If the judge finds that there is not enough evidence that a jury could find that the defendant was driving too closely behind plaintiff’s car, then the judge will grant the motion for a partial directed verdict, and in our example, the jury will not be asked to consider whether the defendant was negligent in driving too closely behind the defendant.

 This tool is not limited to the insurance defense attorney. A plaintiff's attorney representing an injured person can also move for directed verdict on certain issues. For example, a plaintiff could move for a directed verdict on the issue that the defendant’s negligence caused some injury to the plaintiff. Depending upon how the defendant responded to the plaintiff’s initial complaint, the court may grant that motion, which effectively means that the jury does not need to consider whether or not there was an injury resulting from the defendant’s negligence, because it is not a dispute. The jury still has to consider the nature and extent of the injury caused by the defendant.

Motions for Directed are intended to “clean up” the allegations and narrow the issues for the jury. If there is no evidence to support certain allegations, they should fall away, and if a certain element of the case is obvious, and not contested, they should be considered proven.

If you have questions about what it takes to prove an injury case, and whether it will go to trial, call us at 503-325-8600. We help people every day with the Oregon and Washington injury claims.