Although as a general rule jury verdicts in civil cases must be unanimous,2 in civil cases in the Superior Court the parties may stipulate that a stated majority of the jurors shall be taken as the verdict or the findings of the jury.3
In civil cases, verdicts may be general or special. A general verdict is one rendered by the jury in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant, without identifying any special matter, but merely stating in whose favor the jury finds and, if damages are awarded, the amount. This is the most common form of verdict in civil trials.4
In addition, a court may submit to the jury, together with appropriate forms for a general verdict, written interrogatories upon one or more issues of fact, the decision of which is necessary to the verdict. If the court does so, it must also provide instructions to the jury sufficient to enable the jury both to provide answers to the interrogatories and to provide a general verdict. If the general verdict and the answers to the interrogatories are consistent, the appropriate judgment is entered. If the answers to the interrogatories are consistent with each other but one or more is inconsistent with the general verdict, the court may enter judgment in accordance with the answers, notwithstanding the general verdict. Alternatively, the court may send the jury back for further consideration of its answer and verdict or order a new trial. Where the answers are inconsistent with each other and one or more is also inconsistent with the general verdict, judgment may not be entered, and the trial court must either send the jury back for further consideration of its answers and verdict or else order a new trial.5
A special verdict does not include a statement that the jury finds in favor of any party, but instead requires a jury to make written findings upon each issue of fact. The court may submit to the jury written questions susceptible of categorical or other brief answer or may submit written forms of the several special findings which might properly be made under the pleadings and evidence. The court also has the discretion to use such other methods of submitting the factual issues as it deems most appropriate. After receipt of the special verdict, the court then enters judgment in accordance with the law applicable to the facts found. The special verdict has value in cases where the law is disputed or not clear. If, upon reconsideration or review, the facts as found require a judgment other than the one entered, a corrected judgment may be entered without the need for a new trial (except, possibly, on the issue of damages) if there is no question of what the jury’s findings were as to the key facts.
The court must give jury instructions sufficient to enable the jury, to understand the procedures for filling out the interrogatories. If, in so doing, the court fails to identify any issue of fact raised by the pleadings or by the evidence, any party who fails to demand that the omitted issue be submitted to the jury waives the right to trial by jury on such issue, and the court may make the appropriate factual findings. If the court fails to do so, it will be deemed to have made a finding in accordance with the judgment on the special verdict.6
2. State v. Knott, Cr. A. No. 1N84-10-1896, slip op. at 1, Stiftel, J. (Del. Super. May 1, 1985).
3. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 48.
4. V.B. Woolley, Practice in Civil Actions and Proceedings in the Law Courts of the State of Delaware §§ 695-96 (1906).
5. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 49(b). See also § 27:5.
6. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 49(a).
© 2010 David L. Finger