Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reviewing a civil jury verdict

Stilwell v. World Kitchen Inc., 2014 ONCA 770:

[33]       First, the standard of review of civil jury verdicts is exceptionally high. A civil jury's verdict should be set aside only where it is so plainly unreasonable and unjust that no jury reviewing the evidence as a whole and acting judicially could have arrived at the verdict: Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp., 2014 ONCA 419, 120 O.R. (3d) 481, at para. 49; Goodwin (Litigation Guardian of) v. Olupona, 2013 ONCA 259, 305 O.A.C. 245, at para. 23.

[34]       Second, a jury's verdict is entitled to a fair and liberal interpretation in light of the evidence and of the circumstances: Malone v. Trans-Canada Airlines, [1942] O.R. 453, at para. 25 (C.A). Answers by a jury should be given the fullest possible effect and supported, if possible, by any reasonable construction. A new trial should be ordered only where the jury seems to have confused  the issues at trial, it is doubtful whether the jury paid attention to the real point in issue, and the questions answered or unanswered leave the real issue in doubt and ambiguity: Jamieson v. Harris (1905), 35 S.C.R. 625, at para. 2; Graham v. Regent Motors Ltd., [1939] O.J. No. 163, at para. 9 (Ont. H. Ct. J.).

[35]       This approach to the review of jury answers is entirely justified on policy grounds. Our courts recognize that civil juries are made up of laypeople who are untrained in the law, and that allowances for this lack of training must be made in considering their answers to questions. It is also important to remember that civil juries are instructed not to give reasons for their decisions, so their answers must be read in this context. 

[36]       The appropriate degree of judicial deference to be applied in the consideration of jury answers and verdicts was described by Laskin C.J.C. in his dissent in Wade v. C.N.R., [1978] 1 S.C.R. 1064, at pp. 1069-1070:

Appeal Courts do not fine-comb jury answers but accord them the respect of a common sense interpretation even where there may be some ambiguity in the answers.… It is always timely to be reminded that juries do not write reasons for judgment, and their answers must be taken against the background of the evidence from which they are entitled to select, without manifesting their selection, what is credible, what is significant, what is persuasive to them. It is very often easy for an appellate Court, in the leisurely scrutiny of the transcript, to find significance in pieces of evidence to contradict jury findings, and in so doing to usurp the jury's function. What an appellate Court may believe from a reading of the transcript may be the very things which a jury disbelieved or believed in part only. It is one thing to interfere with a jury's verdict where there is simply no evidence to support its findings or to support a critical one; it is a different thing, and not to be encouraged, to interfere with its findings where there is evidence, however slight, on which they may be based, but where because of offsetting evidence a question of credit and weight arises. These are matters for the jury alone.

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