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.
The appellate court also assessed the lower court’s denial of the res ipsa loquitur instruction. “Res ipsa loquitur” is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” This long-standing legal concept means the accident is of a nature such that it could only occur because of negligence. The Appeals Court found the injured man did not provide the jury with evidence on the standard of care used for securing and transporting an aged and damaged vehicle on a flatbed trailer, showing the method used by the parties involved was obviously negligent because it did not stay secure. The court cited a previous case, Roscigno v. Colonial Beacon Oil Co., 294 Mass 234 (1936), which infers expert testimony is needed to merit such an instruction. The appellate court noted the other defendants and accompanying parties on the day of the accident were not agents or employees of the defendant, so they were not an extension of the defendant and his negligent actions.
The injured man’s final appellate issue asserted a new trial should have been granted because the weight of the evidence was in his favor. The Appeals Court looked at case law, which established a jury verdict can only be set aside when a verdict goes against the clear weight of the evidence. As with a motion for a mistrial, an appellate court will only set aside a trial judge’s determination when there is an abuse of discretion. The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s determination that a verdict for the plaintiff was not certain, based on the absence of any evidence related to the standard of care for transporting a car on a flatbed trailer. The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.
Knowledge of personal injury law can change the course of civil litigation. The Massachusetts car accident attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to maximize the damages you deserve. Call our office today at 508.822.6600.
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