Trial Error Leads to New Trial

The Minnesota Court of Appeals just released an opinion with a very uncommon ruling: Remand back to district court for a new trial. The opinion comes from a northern Minnesota courtroom on an appeal heard in St. Paul.

The case stemmed from a real estate transaction. The transaction itself was nothing so unique; the same set of circumstances arise commonly here in Hugo, in Scandia, or Forest Lake. A title company was entrusted to hold in escrow proceeds related to a sale with the release of the funds contingent upon some repairs being made to the subject property. The fact issue was whether the title company properly remitted the funds.

The legal issue was whether the title company breached its contract with the sellers of the property. It is a wildly common, straightforward legal principle. The primary issue on appeal was whether the proper jury instruction on breach of contract, the sole cause of action, was given.

With the straightforward legal principle in place, the trial court still made a bad mistake. What the judge failed to do was ask the jury to decide if a contract was ever formed. It does not take a law degree to understand you cannot have a breach of contract without there being a contract.

Not only did the judge make a mistake, but the lawyer who won the reversed decision made a mistake. There's a fine line between advocating in jury instructions and ensuring that proper, correct jury instructions are in place. If you go too far in the instructions, you end up with a reversal and a new trial.

I previously wrote on trial topics, effective lawyering at trial and this is a good opinion that reflects and supports my past articles. Trials are difficult, having a good lawyer with you at trial is imperative.

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