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AMI 201 Issues—Case Submitted on Interrogatories

Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil

Ark. Model Jury Instr., Civil AMI 201
Arkansas Model Jury Instructions-Civil
November 2021 Update
Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil
Chapter 2. Issues and Burden of Proof
AMI 201 Issues—Case Submitted on Interrogatories
After I have completed my instructions to you on the law in this case, you will be given a number of written questions called interrogatories. These interrogatories present the issues of fact that you must decide. In order that you may be fully acquainted with the issues of fact, which are being submitted in this case for your determination, I will now read these interrogatories, some or all of which you may be called upon to answer. You should keep these in mind as I explain the law applicable to this case.
[Here insert interrogatories]
NOTE ON USE
This instruction should be given in every case that is submitted on interrogatories.
See Chapter 36, II. Multiparty Automobile Collision for an illustrative set of interrogatories.
COMMENT
It is within the trial court's discretion whether to submit a case on a general verdict or interrogatories. Hough Cont'l Leasing Corp., 275 Ark. 340, 344, 630 S.W.2d 19, 21–22 (1982); City of Searcy v. Roberson, 256 Ark. 1081, 1094, 511 S.W.2d 627, 634 (1974); Cobb v. Atkins, 239 Ark. 151, 157, 388 S.W.2d 8, 11 (1965).
If interrogatories are given, each answer to each interrogatory is considered a separate verdict on that particular issue of fact. McChristian v. Hooten, 245 Ark. 1045, 1053, 436 S.W.2d 844, 849 (1969) (approving an instruction so stating). Accordingly, a different majority of jurors may render a verdict as to each interrogatory as long as the required number agree. Id. (approving an instruction advising that “in order to answer any interrogatory, at least nine of you must agree” and clarifying that this does not necessarily mean the same nine jurors).
Whether to submit a case on a general verdict or interrogatories may have implications on appeal and on the availability of prejudgment interest. Therefore, attorneys should consider whether to request the submission of claims or itemized damages on interrogatories instead of a general verdict or whether objection to instructions will be sufficient to preserve error.
With respect to appellate review, a jury verdict rendered on a general verdict form is considered to be “an indivisible entity” or “a finding upon the whole case.” Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Davis, 347 Ark. 566, 576, 66 S.W.3d 568, 578 (2002). The Arkansas Supreme Court has stated that “[w]hen special interrogatories concerning liability or damages are not requested, and this court is left in the position of not knowing the basis for the jury's verdict, we will neither question nor theorize about the jury's findings.” Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Barber, 356 Ark. 268, 293, 149 S.W.3d 325, 341 (2004) (denying defendant's sufficiency of evidence challenge to two of the five negligence theories argued and stating that it would not speculate on which theory of negligence the jury accepted in returning its general verdict form). Thus, in order to preserve error in the submission of one of several claims to a jury, the Arkansas Supreme Court has held that certain claims should be submitted on interrogatories instead of a general verdict. S. Beach Beverage Co. v. Harris Brands, Inc., 355 Ark. 347, 352, 138 S.W.3d 102, 104–05 (2003) (affirming jury's general verdict on claims for promissory estoppel and franchise practices act and noting that judgment would be affirmed if the plaintiff could prevail on either theory). See also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Dodson, 2011 Ark. 19, at 21–22 (rejecting the appellant insurance company's challenge to the jury's damage award for defamation and finding that the appellant's failure to request a special interrogatory precluded argument that it was improperly held jointly and severally liable for damages caused by other, non-party insurance companies that had made the same slanderous statements); Med. Assurance Co. v. Castro, 2009 Ark. 93, at 7–8, 302 S.W.3d 592, 597 (refusing to address defendant's argument that evidence was insufficient to support future damages where verdict was rendered on a general verdict form without itemizing elements of damage award); S. Cent. Ark. Elec. Coop. v. Buck, 354 Ark. 11, 19, 117 S.W.3d 591, 596 (2003) (refusing to address appellant's argument, made for the purpose of asserting subrogation rights against appellee, that the general verdict included sums paid by appellant to appellee); Esry v. Carden, 328 Ark. 153, 157–59, 942 S.W.2d 846, 848–49 (1997) (denying appellant-plaintiff's challenge to a defense verdict where the appellee-defendant had admitted fault for the accident, noting that the general verdict could have been based upon a finding of no liability, no damages, or both).
On the other hand, the Arkansas Supreme Court has also held that a general verdict must be reversed if one of multiple theories was erroneously submitted over objection to the jury being instructed on the defective claim. Dillard Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 315 Ark. 303, 306–07, 867 S.W.2d 442, 444 (1993). See also England v. Costa, 364 Ark. 116, 125, 216 S.W.3d 585, 591 (2005) (reversing the general verdict because an erroneous instruction was given from which prejudice due to the error could not be ascertained).
Submission of tort damages on a general verdict may affect the availability of prejudgment interest. See East Texas Motor Freight Lines, Inc. v. Freeman, 289 Ark. 539, 713 S.W.2d 456, 462 (1986) (modifying judgment to exclude prejudgment interest where the general verdict included damages for property damage and personal injuries on the grounds that a plaintiff intending to claim prejudgment interest “must request a specific verdict on property damage”); Williams v. Shackleford, 2017 Ark. App. 149, 515 S.W.3d 642 (reversing award of prejudgment interest where damages awarded on general verdict because “there was no liquidated amount on which to base an award of prejudgment interest.”).
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