Iowa Court Reverses Jury Award of Contractual Damages
On April 15, 2020, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed a jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs in a breach of contract action against their contractor. The court ruled that the plaintiffs did not complete the required terms and conditions under the contract and that further performance by the contractor was excused.
The plaintiffs hired a contractor to complete repairs to their roof and siding. The contractor completed the roofing work and hired a subcontractor to perform the repairs on the siding. The plaintiffs were not satisfied with the siding work and told the contractor to not come back or allow the subcontractor to provide any additional work. The plaintiff’s insurance company paid $15,985.88 of the $22,000-$23,000 owed under the contract. The remainder was not paid.
The plaintiffs brought claims for breach of contract and negligence. The contractor counterclaimed for breach of contract as well. At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs on both claims, awarding damages of $7,500 for the breach of contract and $1,500 plus attorney fees and court costs for the negligence claim. The jury also found that the plaintiffs did not breach the contract.
The contractor filed motions for a new trial concerning its breach of contract claim and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) for the two adverse claims against it. The district court denied these motions, as long as the plaintiffs agreed to a remittitur of damages they had not requested in closing. The plaintiffs filed a written consent stating they were only seeking $7,500 in damages. The contractor appealed the denial of its motions.
JNOV is a motion allowing a judge to overrule the decision of a jury. This allows a judge to reverse a jury’s verdict if the law is not accurately applied. At trial, the jury was instructed the plaintiffs could recover for breach of contract if they could prove they performed what the contract required of them. If they could not, they were not entitled to damages. Under the contract, the plaintiffs were required to pay for the roofing and siding work. Additionally, the court instructed the jury that a party is not at fault if the other party prevents the work from being performed. The plaintiffs would not allow the contractor to finish its work or address their concerns. Because the couple did not perform their obligations under the contract, further performance by the contractor was excused. The Court of Appeals granted the JNOV motion.
The court also ruled that the contractor was entitled to JNOV concerning the negligence claim because only contract, not negligence, allegations were made.
New Trial Denied
Finally, the court considered whether the contractor was entitled to a new trial concerning its breach of contract claim against the plaintiffs. The court ruled the contractor’s original complaint concerned damages, but on appeal only raised concerns regarding liability. Because the contractor did not originally bring this issue, it did not reserve the right to an appeal regarding liability.
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