On May 8, 2009, the plaintiff in the case of Fyffe v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was a passenger on a trolley operated by the defendant transportation authority. The plaintiff’s trolley struck another trolley, thereby injuring the plaintiff. She filed suit against the transportation authority and the operator of her trolley, alleging that they were liable for her injuries due to their negligence. Prior to trial, the parties agreed that the reason for the trolley crash was the operator’s negligence.
The case proceeded to a jury trial, with the parties agreeing that the only issue for consideration by the jury was the amount of compensation due the plaintiff for her injuries. Accordingly, the jury was instructed to determine a fair and reasonable amount of money that would compensate the plaintiff for her medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering, but was told not to include any punitive damages and not to break down the compensable damage components.
What the Jury Decided
The jury awarded the plaintiff $1.228 million in damages. The defendant, displeased with the verdict, asked the trial court to either reduce the amount of damages or order a new trial. According to the defendant, the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, was excessive, was the result of prejudicial misconduct by the plaintiff’s attorney, and was reached under the influence of passion and sympathy. The trial court rejected the defendants’ various arguments against the propriety of the verdict and denied the motion for a new trial or a remittitur in damages.
Why the Court Set Aside the Verdict
On appeal, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and ordered a new trial. The court noted that, usually, the trial judge has the discretion to determine the impact of errors made during closing arguments of a case, but this particular case was different. Since the case lasted only two days, and both the opening and the closing remarks were permeated with prejudicial remarks by the plaintiff’s counsel, the judge’s final charge telling the jury to disregard the remarks was not sufficient to counter the damage done by the attorney’s improper conduct.
With regard to the defendants’ alternative argument for a reduction in damages, the court stated that the amount awarded was in the upper range of what was indicated by the evidence. Since there was a significant risk that the jury’s award in such a high range resulted from the various improper remarks and actions by the plaintiff’s attorney, a new trial was the proper course of action.
What to Do If You’ve Been Hurt in an Accident
The Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, handles a wide variety of accident and injury cases. If you or someone in your family has been hurt because of the careless or negligent conduct of a another person or business, we are here to help. Call us today at (888) 262-6664, or contact us online, and we will be glad to set up an appointment at your convenience. We are currently accepting new clients in Plymouth, Hyannis and surrounding areas.
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