BISMARCK, N.D. (Legal Newsline)
– The North
Dakota Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court’s decision denying a local
construction company a new trial after it was ordered to pay out nearly
$900,000 for one of its structures found to be faulty.
Rigid Spans Inc. argued the interest, costs and
disbursements it was ordered to pay Brandon and Constance Jalbert was off-base
because the company was denied a fair trial, leading to the jury awarding the
plaintiffs excessive damages.
all, ERS was ordered to shell out $877,407.78.
which also included a total cost and disbursements award of $125,045.48 that
was later amended to $123,519.23.
suit stemmed from ERS’ agreement to build a multi-purpose building for the
Jalberts, who began complaining of faulty construction at some point during the
process, leading to the filing a breach of contract and breach of warranty suit.
grounds for appeal also centered on its contention that the jury awarded
excessive damages to the plaintiffs because of the influence of passion or
officials argued testimony that the
couple paid roughly $600,000 to complete the building confused the jury about
the $374,879 price-tag that was actually paid for the creation of the structure.
for the company further argued the court abused its powers by scheduling the trial for only two days instead of
three, which they contended resulted in the defendants not having as much time
to present their case to the jury as the plaintiffs were allowed.
The reduced trial time resulted in a
scheduled visit to the site of the construction for jury members being canceled in the name of keeping the proceedings on their reduced time schedule.
In rendering its verdict, jurists on
the high court noted "the court may impose reasonable restrictions upon
the length of the trial or hearing and upon the number of witnesses allowed.”
The court’s opinion was written by Justice Daniel J. Crothers.
The court also noted that attorneys
for ERS did not object to the court’s scheduling timetable at the time when it
was first announced and only began to express displeasure at a pre-trial
conference not long before litigation was set to commence.
In the end, ERS attorneys argued the
reduced trial time forced them into making several tactical decisions that they
may not have made otherwise.
In response, the court noted that
the defense legal team never articulated what additional
testimony it would have presented to the court if they were allowed more time, or
even if they would have called additional witnesses to take the stand.
Further, the court rendered ERS did
not make an offer of proof of the specific testimony excluded because of time
“Without a sufficient offer of proof
this court is unable to review whether a failure to allow presentation of
evidence was prejudicial,” the ruling stipulated.
The court also noted the trial court's decision to grant or deny a new trial for an excessive damage verdict is "discretionary" and will not be overturned unless an abuse of discretion has been demonstrated.