The Second Department, reversing the over $1 million judgment in this negligence and Public-Health-Law-2801-d violation case, determined plaintiff’s counsel’s remarks in summation required a new trial. Plaintiff’s decedent, who was at risk for falling, fell after getting up from a wheelchair a defendant residential health care facility and ultimately died:
“[L]itigants are entitled, as a matter of law, to a fair trial free from improper comments by counsel or the trial court” … . “The interest of justice thus requires a court to order a new trial where comments by an attorney for a party’s adversary deprived that party of a fair trial or unduly influenced a jury” … .
Here, during summation, the plaintiff’s counsel improperly appealed to the passion of the jurors by characterizing the defendant as a “corporation” that has “two lawyers,” a “tech person,” “general counsel,” and “video people.” Counsel also improperly accused the defendant of willfully depriving the plaintiff of evidence that would have been harmful to the defendant’s case, accused the defendant’s witnesses of having “changed” their testimony after their depositions or pretrial affirmations, which were not in evidence, “because they saw that they couldn’t win,” and improperly argued that the defendant failed to call certain witnesses, who were not under the defendant’s control. Thus, “the comments of the plaintiff[‘s] counsel . . . were not isolated, were inflammatory, and were unduly prejudicial. These prejudicial comments so tainted the proceedings as to have deprived the defendant . . . of a fair trial” … . Nieves v Clove Lakes Health Care & Rehabilitation, Inc., 2020 NY Slip Op 00422, Second Dept 1-22-20