California Landmark Cases on Special Verdicts

"'A special verdict is inconsistent if there is no possibility of reconciling its findings with each other. .' . 'On appeal, we review a special verdict de novo to determine whether its findings are inconsistent. . . . . "'"Where the findings are contradictory on material issues, and the correct determination of such issues is necessary to sustain the judgment, the inconsistency is reversible error."' ." . . . . The proper remedy for an inconsistent special verdict is a new trial. .' ." (David v. Hernandez (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 578, 585.) "Potentially defective special verdicts are subject to 'a multilayered approach.' (Zagami, Inc. v. James A. Crone, Inc. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1083, 1091 (Zagami).) Prior to the jury's discharge, the trial court is obliged upon request to ask the jury to correct or clarify a potentially ambiguous or inconsistent verdict. (Ibid.) If the verdict is 'merely ambiguous,' a party's failure to seek clarification of the verdict before the jury is discharged may work a forfeiture of the purported defect on appeal, 'particularly if the party's failure to object was to reap a '"'technical advantage'"' or to engage in a "'"litigious strategy."'"' (Id. at p. 1092, fn. 5, quoting Woodcock v. Fontana Scaffolding & Equip. Co. (1968) 69 Cal.2d 452, 457.) However, absent a forfeiture, courts may properly interpret a 'merely ambiguous' verdict in light of the pleadings, evidence, and instructions. (Id. at p. 1092, fn. 5.) In contrast, if the special verdicts are '"'hopelessly ambiguous'"' or inconsistent, failure to seek clarification from the jury does not create a forfeiture, and the proper remedy is ordinarily a retrial on the issues underlying the defective verdict. (Id. at p. 1092.)" (Little v. Amber Hotel Co. (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 280, 299-300 (Little).)