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Florida Court Grants New Trial in Accident Case Due to Defendant’s Closing Argument

August 22, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

In most South Florida pedestrian accident cases, whether a defendant’s negligence caused a plaintiff’s harm is an issue to be decided by the jury. As such, courts will typically leave a jury’s verdict undisturbed, unless a reversal is clearly warranted. A Florida appellate court recently addressed whether a reversal of a verdict was warranted in a case where the jury was unjustly swayed by inappropriate comments made by the defendant’s attorney, ultimately finding that a reversal was appropriate. If you were a pedestrian injured in a South Florida car accident you should meet with a capable South Florida personal injury attorney promptly to explore your options for pursuing damages.

Allegedly, the plaintiff was walking across a three-lane highway in Monroe County, when she was struck by the defendant’s vehicle. The impact of the defendant’s vehicle launched the plaintiff into the path of a second vehicle, which also struck the plaintiff. A police officer investigating the accident found the defendant at fault and cited the defendant for failing to exercise due care to avoid a collision with a pedestrian. The defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere and was found guilty. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

Reportedly, prior to the trial the defendant sought and was granted motions in limine precluding any evidence of his traffic citation and the contents of the police report from being introduced at trial. During his closing argument, the defendant’s attorney advised the jury that the investigating officer had not formulated an opinion about fault in the accident or come to a conclusion as to whether the defendant was negligent. The plaintiff’s attorney made timely objections to the defendant’s attorneys’ statements, which the court overruled. The jury ultimately issued a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for a new trial.

Determining Whether a Closing Argument Necessitates a New Trial

A trial court may grant a new trial where a party’s closing statements are inflammatory and highly prejudicial. To determine whether statements are prejudicial they must be evaluated in the context in which they were made. The court noted that it was well established in the Florida courts that statements indicating a driver had not been charged with a traffic violation following an accident are prejudicial and may warrant a new trial. In the subject case, the court noted that the statements that the investigating officer had not come to a conclusion regarding the defendant’s negligence could be interpreted to mean that the defendant had not been charged with a traffic violation for causing the accident. Therefore, the court found that the trial court erred in overruling the objection. Further, the court noted that because the issue of liability was vigorously contested, the error in making allowing such a statement was not harmless. Thus, the court found that a new trial was warranted and reversed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Proficient South Florida Car Accident Attorney Regarding Your Case

If you were injured while walking in South Florida you should meet with a proficient South Florida pedestrian accident attorney to determine whether you may be able to recover damages from the party that caused your accident. The South Florida personal injury attorneys of Donaldson & Weston will work with you to develop effective arguments that will help you seek compensation for any injuries you suffered as a result of your accident. We can be reached at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to schedule a confidential and free consultation.