Two weeks ago, when the New Jersey Supreme Court repealed its five-year-old precedent that said trial judges could use their “feel of the case” to determine whether awards in civil cases could be reduced or increased, there was an almost audible sigh of relief from the plaintiffs bar and a begrudging shrug of acceptance from defense attorneys.
Plaintiffs lawyers had argued that the doctrine, enacted in 2011 by a bare 3-2 majority in He v. Miller, was being used more often by trial judges to slash jury verdicts in cases involving products liability, employment discrimination, whistleblowers, corporate financial fraud and consumer fraud.
Thomas Doherty, a litigator at Newark’s McCarter & English who focuses his practice on defending employers in labor and employment cases, sees it differently.
Allowing judges to rely on their professional experiences or comparative analysis “was another way of reining in runaway jury verdicts,” Doherty said. “This is yet another anti-employer, pro-employee ruling from the Supreme Court.”
In He, Hoens explained her reasoning. “Trial judges see much that juries do not.”