One of the most important facets of the American legal system is the right to a trial by jury. The idea is that a jury of one’s peers will be more likely to render a fair and impartial verdict than might a seasoned judge, who might be predispositioned to lean one way or another.
Unfortunately, jury verdicts are not always predicable, and litigants are often dissatisfied with the results of a jury trial. While there exists the possibility of an appeal in some cases, simple displeasure with the outcome is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason for a “do-over.”
Convincing an appellate court that a mistake was made during a jury trial is not an easy thing to do, as the disappointed plaintiffs in a Massachusetts truck accident case recently learned.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case (unreported), the plaintiffs were a mother and her daughters who were allegedly injured in a 2010 collision in which a tractor-trailer struck their vehicle from behind. They sued the defendants, the company that owned the truck and others, seeking damages for injuries sustained in the accident. The defendants admitted that they were liable but requested a trial on the issue of damages. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded $6,749 to one plaintiff, $6,415 to the second plaintiff, and no damages to the third plaintiff. The plaintiffs moved to set aside the jury verdict. This motion was denied, along with their motion for a new trial. They appealed.
The Court’s Decision on Appeal
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the trial court committed a reversible error in refusing to grant a continuance of the trial when co-counsel withdrew after the jury was empaneled and in excluding certain medical records proffered by the plaintiff while admitting others offered by the defendants. The plaintiffs also maintained that they had been denied effective assistance of counsel. The appellate court rejected all of these arguments and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The court found that the plaintiffs did not object to the trial court’s handling of the withdrawal of one of the plaintiff’s attorneys at trial, thus failing to preserve this issue for appeal, but the court went on to note that it was not an abuse of discretion for the judge to require the plaintiffs to proceed. In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiffs still had two attorneys representing them at trial and that it was the behavior of one of the plaintiffs that had led to the attorney asking to withdraw due to an “ethical issue.”
The court also found no merit to the argument that the trial judge had erred with regard to the admission or lack of admission of certain of the plaintiffs’ medical records. The records proffered by the plaintiffs were not necessarily reliable in that revisions had been made to them by unknown persons. The defendants, on the other hand, had offered records that were in compliance with the statutory safeguards of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 233, § 79G.
With respect to the plaintiffs’ “ineffective assistance of counsel” argument, the court reiterated the general rule that there is no such right in civil cases. Instead, a civil litigant who believes that his or her attorney acted improperly has the option of a malpractice action – but not a collateral attack on the outcome of a case (as in a criminal proceeding).
If You Have Questions Concerning a Cape Cod Auto Accident
If you have been hurt in a crash, you should speak to an experienced Cape Cod truck accident attorney about holding the responsible trucker or trucking company liable for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, offers a free case evaluation of your Hyannis or Plymouth accident case. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment today.
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