Ohio First District Court of Appeals Applies the Two-Issue Rule to Affirm Jury Verdict in Favor of Taft Client

Last week, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals applied the two-issue rule to affirm a jury verdict in favor of Taft’s client, the City of Cincinnati (the City). The dispute arose from a construction contract between the City and its general contractor, Triton Services, Inc. (Triton). Triton alleged that, during construction, it encountered unforeseen working conditions, which purportedly caused it to incur $534,321.65 in additional expenses. At trial, the city raised a number of defenses, including two contractual condition precedents to the filing of the action: (1) Triton’s failure to provide timely notice of its claims, and (2) Triton’s failure to comply with the contract’s dispute-resolution provisions. The jury ultimately granted judgment in the City’s favor, noting generally in interrogatories that the city was not required to compensate Triton for the expenses incurred for any differing site conditions. 

On appeal, Triton insisted that the trial court committed various errors related to the admission of evidence. But the First District overruled Triton’s assignments of error, finding that the two-issue rule rendered these assignments of error harmless. The First District explained that, under the two-issue rule, if a defendant presents two separate defenses and a jury returns a general verdict — like failure to comply with the contract’s notice requirements or notice provisions, then any error involving 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 be dispositive of Triton’s claim. Next, the First District held that the trial court’s finding that Triton violated the dispute-resolution provisions was free from error because Triton waived any challenge to this finding. Finally, the First District concluded that the jury returned a general verdict with respect to the city’s defenses because the interrogatories did not reveal which of the two defenses the jury based its verdict based upon. Because all the elements of the two-issue rule were satisfied, the First District found that the alleged errors would be harmless, and thus declined to address the merits of Triton’s assignments of error.

The Taft team included Cincinnati partners Heather Hawkins, Aaron Herzig, and Nick Pieczonka, associate 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-chair of Taft’s Appellate practice. He briefs and argues appeals in federal and state courts, and counsels clients regarding complex federal practice and appellate matters. Pieczonka focuses his practice on litigation, real estate and construction, and product liability and personal injury matters. Meyer represents clients in the commercial development and construction industries in matters involving construction defect and delay claims. 

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