Sampson v. Alaskan Airlines, Inc.
In Sampson v. Alaskan Airlines, Inc., 467 P.3d 1072 (Alaska 2020), the supreme court held that a special verdict form requiring proof by a “reasonable degree of certainty,” instead of the correct standard of “reasonably probable,” did not constitute plain error. (Id. at 1075). After Sampson sustained substantial injuries from slipping and falling on unsalted ice outside an Alaskan Airlines terminal, she sued Alaskan Airlines for economic and non-economic damages. (Id. at 1073). A jury verdict found in favor of Sampson’s claim for economic damages but found that she had not proven her non-economic damages to a reasonable degree of certainty, as stated in the special jury form. (Id. at 1074). Sampson appealed, claiming the jury form’s use of reasonable degree of certainty, rather than reasonably probable, constituted plain error. (Id.). The supreme court held that because the court has a history of using both terms interchangeably and because Sampson affirmed the special jury instruction prior to its issuance, the instruction was not clearly erroneous. (Id. at 1075). While acknowledging that confusion may theoretically result from these terms, the supreme court held that the jury instruction did not create a high likelihood of the jury following an erroneous theory resulting in a miscarriage of justice, therefore no plain error occurred. (Id.).