In a typical personal injury suit arising out of a car accident, the plaintiff has the burden to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In a December 10, 2020 opinion, the Court of Appeals of Maryland reviewed a case involving an automobile collision. Following a trial, the jury concluded the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused or aggravated by the Maryland car accident. After the lower court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial, the plaintiff filed an appeal.
The plaintiff in the case was making a left turn at an intersection pursuant to a green arrow when the defendant proceeded through a red light and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff testified that she felt some discomfort immediately after the collision, so she went home instead of going to work. Weeks later, the plaintiff sought care from her regular health care provider, who had been treating her neck and back pain for several years. She began physical therapy, but when that caused her pain, she went to an orthopedist who recommended surgery. The plaintiff underwent shoulder surgery thereafter.
The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, alleging that the accident caused her shoulder injury and seeking compensation for her medical expenses. The case went to trial, and although the jury found that the defendant was negligent in the accident, it also found that the injuries to the plaintiff were not caused or aggravated by the accident. On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the statements made by the defendant’s counsel during opening arguments were prejudicial and violated the “golden rule.”
The primary purpose of an opening statement is to apprise the jury of the questions involved in the case they are about to hear and what the parties expect to prove so as to prepare them for the coming evidence. Generally, improper or prejudicial statements, remarks, or arguments of counsel may be cured by the trial judge, who has a choice of methods to protect the judicial proceedings from bias. A “golden rule” argument is one in which an arguing attorney asks the jury to place themselves in the shoes of the victim. It is improper because it appeals to the jurors’ prejudices and asks them to abandon their neutral fact-finding role.
In the instant case, to address the plaintiff’s objection to the defense counsel’s statements, the judge advised the jury that the opening and closing statements and arguments were not evidence. On appeal, the court reviewed the statements made by the defendant’s counsel. The court concluded that, to the extent that the comments were improper, they were not so prejudicial as to require a new trial. Finding that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury verdict, the court went on to affirm the judgment.
If you are seeking experienced legal representation after an accident, the personal injury lawyers at Foran & Foran, P.A. can assist you. Our dedicated attorneys can provide guidance to victims of medical malpractice, automobile collisions, slip and fall injuries, and other accidents caused by negligence. Arrange a free consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer by calling (301) 441-2022 or submitting our contact form online.