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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Establishes New Rule for Seeking a Mistrial in a Restaurant Food Contamination Case

When a restaurant serves unsafe food to a patron and that person is injured as a result, a personal injury claim may be possible. In asserting a Cape Cod food contamination case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, meaning that he or she must present evidence sufficient to convince the jury, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is entitled to money damages due to the incident and injuries at issue.

Damages may include compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earnings, and the like. The exact amount to be awarded is in the jury’s discretion but is subject to appellate review.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent appeals court case was a woman who was injured when she allegedly bit down on a piece of bone that was in a hamburger purchased from the defendant restaurant. According to the plaintiff, the bone caused one of her upper molars to split, necessitating over two years of dental and medical treatment. This included two root canals, sinus elevation surgery, and a bone graft. The plaintiff’s lawsuit, filed in 2013, asserted claims for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability under Massachusetts General Laws ch. 106, § 2-314 and violations of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 93A. (The plaintiff also asserted a negligence claim and a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, but these claims were voluntarily dismissed prior to trial.)

The case was tried to a jury, which ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $150,005.64 in damages. After the verdict was returned, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for a mistrial. Notably, the motion had been made – but not decided upon – during closing arguments. The case was then tried a second time in front of a different jury. The second jury also found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $10,000 in damages; however, the judge found in the defendant’s favor on the ch. 93A claim, allowed the defendant’s motion to recover costs, and thus entered a net judgment to the plaintiff for $5964.52. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in granting a mistrial after the verdict in the first trial. The defendant sought further appeal.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed the intermediate tribunal court’s decision and affirmed the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for a mistrial following the first trial. The court began by acknowledging that, in the first trial, the defendant made its motion for a mistrial during closing arguments (based on the plaintiff’s counsel allegedly making improper comments during that part of the trial) but the judge reserved her decision until after the jury’s verdict. The court then noted that prior Massachusetts case law did not directly address the procedural question of whether a trial court judge could reserve a decision on a party’s motion for a mistrial until after a jury had returned a verdict. In addressing this issue, the supreme judicial court ruled that, in such a situation, the motion should be decided when made, not after the jury’s verdict. After a jury has returned a verdict, the proper procedure was a motion for a new trial, not a motion for a mistrial.

After stating that this rule was to be applied prospectively only, the court determined that, in the instant case, the trial court judge had not abused her discretion in granting a mistrial in the first trial given certain the improper statements made by the plaintiff’s attorney. According to the court, these statements were made to “appeal to the jurors’ emotions, passions, prejudices, or sympathies” and were grounds for the declaration of a mistrial.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney in Cape Cod

If you have been hurt because of a restaurant’s food contamination in Hyannis or Plymouth, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III can help you assert a claim against the restaurant that prepared and served the food. Call us at 888-262-6664 for an appointment, or contact us through this website.

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