State Farm v. Gold – Improper Closing Argument Warrants New Trial

If your Naples car accident lawsuit goes to trial, jurors will be given the opportunity to hear from both sides, sift through the evidence and make a decision. gavel4

Some of the most influential statements jurors will consider will come during closing arguments. This is when attorneys from both sides are given the opportunity to sum up their case in clear, thoughtful and passionate manner. Unfortunately, there have been instances in which attorneys get caught up in the moment, and may cross boundaries of appropriate argument.

Attorneys are given wide latitude in making closing arguments to the jury, but their comments have to be confined to the evidence and reasonable inferences made from that evidence. Overstepping those boundaries could result in an unfavorable outcome. Most personal injury cases do not go to trial – they are settled before it reaches that phase. But it’s still important to hire an attorney who has ample trial experience because these sorts of missteps can hurt your case.

Take for example the recent car accident lawsuit of State Farm v. Gold, an appeal recently weighed by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals.

Plaintiff was involved in a crash caused by an uninsured driver. Thankfully, he had uninsured motorist coverage, which provides benefits for just this type of scenario. Unfortunately, the auto insurance company flat-out denied his claim. He had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the insurer.

Insurance companies that are found to act in bad faith by refusing to pay legitimate claims can be held to account in court and forced to pay triple damages.

The case was not settled and proceeded to the trial phase.

Before closing arguments began, the court told the jury plaintiff was insured under a policy with the defendant and that policy allowed for both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Jurors were also told the company was responsible for any injuries or damages sustained by plaintiff in the accident.

From there, plaintiff attorney gave a closing argument. He made the verbal statement that defendant insurer had never taken responsibility for its legal duty and would not do so until jurors forced them to. While this statement was being made, there was a PowerPoint slide visible to jurors with written words stating plaintiff had been carrying debt, defendant promised to pay his medical bills, the insurer refused to take responsibility for debt it owes and had forced plaintiffs to bring this case to trial.

Defense objected to the verbal and written statements. Jurors remained seated – and the slide remained up and visible – for two minutes while there was a bench conference on the objection. Jurors were then excused for several minutes while the court considered the objection, which was eventually sustained.

Jurors were brought back, and plaintiff attorney continued with his statement, which included the statement that plaintiff had “done right all along” and asked question, “Has the defendant?” Defense again objected, but the court overruled. Jurors decided the case in favor of the accident victim.

Defense appealed, arguing these statements and the slides were so highly prejudicial and inflammatory, it was denied the right to a fair trial. Plaintiff countered that while his attorney’s statements were improper, they were “fleeting” and did not merit reversal.

Appellate court sided with defense, reversed and remanded for a new trial.

The court reasoned these statements were not inconsequential, and they were not only spoken but written. The fact that jurors were exposed to this message in written form negated to some extent the fact that the court eventually sustained the defense objection to it. It was noted that visual aids are often used during closing arguments for the fact that they are so effective at communicating themes and ideas to jurors.

The American Bar Association recently published a list of Florida appellate court decisions that detail improper closing arguments. Some include statements by attorneys that:

  • Defense was “trying to fool (jurors)”
  • Accused defense of “knowing defendant is liable, but protecting the wallet of corporate defendant”
  • Accused defense of “hiding something” and “pulling a fast one” and calling defense attorneys “liars”
  • Called witnesses names like “this joker” and “the good soldier”

Essentially, the courts will penalize attorneys from both sides who make prejudicial statements in closing arguments that aren’t supported by the evidence.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

State Farm v. Gold, Jan. 27, 2016, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

McFadden v. DOT – Negligent Highway Maintenance, Jan. 25, 2016, Naples Car Accident Lawyer Blog