Defense Counsel’s Conduct Did Not Warrant Setting Aside the Verdict
The Second Department determined Supreme Court abused its discretion when it set aside the verdict in a personal injury trial based upon the conduct of the defense attorney:
The plaintiffs moved to set aside the verdict pursuant to CPLR 4404(a): (1) in the interest of justice, contending that defense counsel’s improper and inflammatory remarks during summation deprived them of a fair trial; and (2) contending that the verdict as to damages was contrary to the weight of the evidence. The Supreme Court granted the motion on the first ground, and the defendants appeal.
Under CPLR 4404(a), a trial court has the discretion to order a new trial “in the interest of justice” (CPLR 4404[a]…). In considering whether to exercise its discretionary power to order a new trial based on errors at trial, the court “must decide whether substantial justice has been done, whether it is likely that the verdict has been affected . . . and must look to [its] own common sense, experience and sense of fairness rather than to precedents in arriving at a decision’ … . On appeal, however, this Court is invested with the power to decide whether the trial court providently exercised its discretion … .
Here, we conclude that the Supreme Court improvidently exercised its discretion in ordering a new trial. The plaintiffs’ claims regarding defense counsel’s conduct center on remarks made by defense counsel during her summation, although they also challenge her cross-examination of certain witnesses. Some of the challenged conduct was certainly improper, and we do not condone it … . Nonetheless, viewing defense counsel’s conduct in the context of the entire trial, we conclude that it was not pervasive or prejudicial, or so inflammatory as to deprive the plaintiffs of a fair trial … . Lariviere v New York City Tr. Auth., 2015 NY Slip Op 06894, 2nd Dept 9-23-15