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Last week, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals applied the two-question rule to uphold a jury verdict in favor of Taft’s client, the City of Cincinnati (the City). The dispute arose out of a construction contract between the City and its general contractor, Triton Services, Inc. (Triton). Triton alleged that during construction he encountered unforeseen working conditions which caused him to incur additional expenses of $534,321.65. At trial, the city raised a number of defenses, including two contractual conditions precedent to the filing of the action: (1) Triton’s failure to provide timely notice of its claims, and (2) failure of Triton to comply with the Dispute Resolution Agreement. provisions. The jury ultimately returned judgment in favor of the city, generally noting in interrogations that the city was under no obligation to compensate Triton for expenses incurred for any different site conditions.
On appeal, Triton insisted that the trial court made various errors related to the admission of evidence. But the First District overruled Triton’s error attributions, finding that the two-issue rule made those error attributions harmless. The First District explained that under the two-question rule, if a defendant presents two separate defenses and a jury returns an overall verdict – such as failure to meet the notice requirements of the contract Where notice provisions, any error on one issue is irrelevant unless both issues are appealed.
Therefore, the First District determined that the city’s two defenses – notice and dispute resolution – would dispose of Triton’s claim. Next, the First District held that the trial court’s finding that Triton had violated the dispute resolution provisions was free from error because Triton had waived its challenge to that finding. Finally, the First District found that the jury returned a general verdict regarding the city’s defenses because questioning did not reveal which of the two defenses the jury based their verdict on. Because all elements of the two-question rule were satisfied, the First District concluded that the alleged errors would be harmless and therefore declined to consider the merits of Triton’s attributions of error.
The Taft team included Cincinnati partners Heather Hawkins, Aaron Herzig and Nick Pieczonka, partner Michael Meyer and paralegal Lyndsay Sutton.
Hawkins is a construction and business litigator who represents general contractors, developers, architects and engineers, investors and public companies, national retailers and international manufacturers and distributors. Herzig is co-chairman of Taft’s appellate practice. He advises and litigates appeals in federal and state courts, and counsels clients regarding complex federal practice and appellate issues. Pieczonka focuses her practice on litigation, real estate and construction, as well as product liability and personal injury. Meyer represents clients in the commercial development and construction industries in matters involving claims for construction defects and delays.
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