Legal Memorandum: Raising Objections to Jury Instructions

Issue: Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is a party entitled to raise an objection to jury instructions or a verdict form for the first time after the jury retires?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Jury Instructions or a verdict form; Objection; Jury retires
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 232 F.3d 245
Cited Statutes: Rule 51 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Date: 08/01/2001

Under Rule 51 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[n]o party may assign as error the giving or the failure to give an instruction unless that party objects thereto before the jury retires to consider on its verdict, stating distinctly the matter objected to and the grounds of the objection.”  Pals v. Schepal Buick & GMC Truck, Inc., No. 99-3551, (7th Cir. July 14, 2000), best illustrates this point.  Pals filed an ADA claim against his employer and received a $1,050,000 verdict.  The general verdict form told the jury to determine the amount of “compensatory damages” to which Pals was entitled, without breaking it down into lost back wages, lost future income, or mental distress, the harms alleged by Pals.  After the verdict the defendant asked the court to reduce the award to $100,000 (the relevant statutory cap under the ADA).  The court refused and the appellate court affirmed, stating:

Because the jury did not separate compensatory damages under sec. 1981a from other monetary relief, it is impossible to know whether the verdict includes more than $100,000 in “compensatory damages awarded under this section.”  Like the magistrate judge, we think that Schepel has only itself to blame.  Pal’s lawyers and the magistrate judge obviously had not focused on sec. 1981a(b)(3).  Schepel’s lawyer sat quietly as the jury instructions and verdict forms were approved and did nothing to avert the problem.  (Schepel does not contend on appeal that its trial lawyer was clueless about sec. 1981a […]


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