The injured party in this case was driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike in 2011 when a “classic car” transported on a flatbed trailer slid off and hit the plaintiff’s car. The injured man filed suit against the owner of the vintage car and three other men accompanying him in the transport of the car. The case against one of the defendants went to trial, where the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The injured man appealed, arguing a mistrial should have been granted based on the defendant’s opening statement made by his attorney, a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction should have been given, and a new trial should have been awarded.
These types of appellate requests are typical, whether it is a slip-and-fall case or an auto accident case like this one. The civil court system acknowledges that mistakes can be made at the trial court level. A dissatisfied party can point to errors made by the trial court judge or jury in its ruling, finding, or award. A frustrated party can ask for the appellate court to alter the problematic ruling or award, or they can ask for an entirely new trial. The plaintiff-appellant in this case asked for the latter, arguing the errors made were so egregious the only solution was a new trial.
In its review, the appellate court first addressed the injured man’s argument that the defense counsel’s opening statement was incurably prejudicial. The defendant told the jury the injured man waited 19 months to file suit and did not readily produce his medical records. The Appeals Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to declare a mistrial based on the defendant’s opening statements. The trial judge made spontaneous comments after comments made by counsel and did not officially provide a ruling on an objection. The plaintiff did not preserve the record for appeal through an objection. The trial judge did instruct the jury that opening statements are not evidence, and the discovery process was not essential for the jury’s consideration.