The Ohio Constitution guarantees every personal injury victim the right to have his or her claim tried by a jury. Of course, when victims prevail at trial, the defense may try to argue the jury acted emotionally or inconsistently with the law. And while Ohio court rules do allow a judge to order a new trial if there is evidence of “passion or prejudice” on the part of a jury, this is not a license for courts to second-guess verdicts.
Judges Reject Claims Plaintiffs’ Lawyers “Inflamed” the Jury
A recent example here in Cleveland is the case of Torres v. Concrete Designs, Inc. This personal injury case arose from a November 2010 auto accident. The plaintiffs were passengers in a car that collided with a dump truck.
The plaintiffs subsequently sued both drivers and the company that owned the dump truck. After a trial that lasted nearly a month, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The jury further held the dump truck driver and owner were 100 percent liable for the accident. That is to say, the driver of the car the plaintiffs were riding in had “no liability.”
The jury awarded the two plaintiffs a combined total of $10 million in economic damages and $32.4 million in non-economic damages. The dump truck defendants (and their insurance company) subsequently moved for a new trial. Among other arguments, the defense said the jury’s award of “noneconomic damages was excessive.” In support of this point, the defense pointed to what they described as “improper remarks” made by the plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer at trial. The defense maintained these remarks “inflamed the jury’s passion and prejudice.”
But neither the trial court nor the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals agreed with that assessment. In its own opinion, the appeals court noted that most of the defense’s objections amount to disagreements over “trial tactics and strategy” and did not point to any “misconduct” warranting a new trial.
For example, during closing arguments the plaintiffs’ attorney pointed to the fact that while his clients “were in the hospital,” the defendants had “started working towards strategically defending this case.” That is to say, the defendants immediately hired lawyers and accident reconstruction specialists at “great expense.” The plaintiffs’ lawyer suggested this was an indication that the defendants knew they were responsible for the accident.
The defense said such remarks effectively asked the jury to punish the defendants for exercising their right to consult with an attorney. But as the Eighth District explained, the attorney’s remarks were “not evidence,” and it was not demonstrated how they actually prejudiced the jury. In the context of a criminal trial, the court explained, citing a defendant’s decision to consult with counsel as evidence of guilt can rise to the level of “prosecutorial misconduct.” But such reasoning does not apply in civil personal injury cases.
Contact the Cleveland Personal Injury Lawyers at Tittle & Perlmuter Today
It is not uncommon for defendants to blame the plaintiffs’ lawyers when the jury rules against them. But the reality is most defendants only have themselves to blame. And if you are seriously injured in an auto accident, you have the right to expect zealous, professional representation from an experienced Cleveland personal injury attorney.
Call Tittle & Perlmuter today at (216) 308-1522 if you need to speak with a lawyer today.