The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the jury verdict in this personal injury case should have been granted. One of the issues in the trial was the identity of the party which left a pipe in a tunnel. Plaintiff alleged he was injured when he tripped over the pipe. Defendants presented a witness, Dudin, who testified the defendants were not responsible for leaving the pipe in the tunnel. Dudin was represented as a disinterested witness when, in fact, he was employed by the defendants:
Pursuant to CPLR 4404(a), a trial court may order a new trial “in the interest of justice.” “A motion pursuant to CPLR 4404 (a) to set aside a verdict and for a new trial in the interest of justice encompasses errors in the trial court’s rulings on the admissibility of evidence, mistakes in the charge, misconduct, newly discovered evidence, and surprise” … . In considering such a motion, “[t]he Trial Judge must decide whether substantial justice has been done, whether it is likely that the verdict has been affected and must look to his [or her] own common sense, experience and sense of fairness rather than to precedents in arriving at a decision'” … .
Here, the record reveals that the defendants affirmatively represented to the jury that Dudin was a disinterested, objective witness, notwithstanding that he was employed by the defendants at the time of trial. During summation, the defendants’ counsel stated that Dudin was “with the construction manager,” and that he was “not on [the defendants’] payroll,” but rather was a representative of the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. Additionally, the defendants’ counsel stated that, “you heard from Mr. Dudin, who is with the DEP now, this is not [the defendants’] stuff” in the tunnel. Counsel specifically referred to Dudin as “an objective witness” who “has no dealings with [the defendants],” and stated that he was “there to help the [injured] plaintiff.” Under the circumstances, we find that the jury should have had the opportunity to consider Dudin’s status as an employee of the defendants in assessing his credibility and in determining whether this relationship biased or influenced the witness’s testimony … . D’Amato v WDF Dev., LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 02761, Second Dept 5-13-20