OVERTURNED A DEFENSE VERDICT, ADDING TO JURY AWARDS
Judge Toal has a record of overturning or modifying jury verdicts with which she disagrees.
For example, in a 2018 case, after Covil Corp. said it could not produce old documents because the papers had been destroyed in a fire, the court found that spoliation occurred and sanctioned the company with an adverse instruction effectively telling the jurors to presume the company exposed the plaintiff to asbestos in his workplace.
The judge did this even though the plaintiff did not identify Covil in his deposition and a representative for another company, Daniel Construction, testified that they did not have any records indicating that Covil supplied insulation for Mr. Crawford’s workplace and could not definitively place Covil as a supplier or contractor at the plant.
Despite the judge’s instruction and after hearing all the testimony, the jury reached a defense verdict. Three months later, Judge Toal threw out the verdict by invoking South Carolina’s “thirteenth juror”
doctrine. As explained by the South Carolina Supreme Court, the effect of the thirteenth juror doctrine “is the same as if the jury failed to reach to a verdict…. When a jury fails to reach a verdict, a new trial is ordered. Neither judge nor the jury is required to give reasons for this outcome.” According to Judge Toal, “as the ‘thirteenth juror,’ the trial judge can hang the jury by refusing to agree to the jury’s otherwise unanimous verdict.” She used this incredible power in Crawford to order a new trial, giving the plaintiff a second chance to win a case that was lost.
On at least two occasions, Judge Toal increased jury awards when she believed the juries did not award enough money to the plaintiffs.
In Edwards v. Scapa Waycross, Inc., Judge Toal increased a $600,000 jury award by $400,000 for a total of $1 million. The judge also refused to reallocate plaintiff’s internal apportionment of settlement proceeds to be more reasonable under the facts. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed on both issues.
In Jolly v. General Electric Co., Judge Toal increased an award to a worker and his wife by some $1.6 million. The jury awarded the worker $200,000 in actual damages and $100,000 to his wife for loss of consortium. Judge Toal increased the worker’s award to $1.58 million and his wife’s award to $290,000.
She also refused to allow a setoff for the portion of prior settlements that plaintiff’s counsel had allocated to future losses. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed on both issues, signaling “the Court of Appeals will give much deference to the circuit court and is disinclined to disturb these rulings in the absence of an obvious abuse of discretion.”