Court Orders New Trial after Defense Counsel Comments on Plaintiff’s Immigration Status

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue for many Maryland personal injury plaintiffs. The case arose after a truck accident in which the plaintiff, a woman originally from Mexico without a valid work permit for the United States, was injured in an accident with a truck driver. The case required the court to discuss whether the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial after defense counsel made several veiled comments regarding the plaintiff’s immigration status.

Semi-TruckThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when the defendant truck driver made an allegedly improper lane change into the plaintiff’s vehicle. Many facts in the case were contested, with the plaintiff and defendant each maintaining different stories of how the accident occurred.

As a part of the plaintiff’s case, she had a medical expert testify regarding her injuries and what treatment she would likely need in the future, as well as the cost of that treatment. During cross-examination of that witness, defense counsel asked the expert if he was aware if the plaintiff was going to “move back” to Mexico. Defense counsel made another reference to the fact that the plaintiff spoke primarily Spanish and only limited English.

At the time of defense counsel’s comments, the plaintiff did not object. A jury later returned a verdict in favor of the defense. At this point, the plaintiff moved for a new trial, citing the prejudicial comments of defense counsel. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and granted the plaintiff a new trial. The court explained that, normally, a party must object at the time when questionable testimony or comment is made in order to preserve the issue for appellate review. This, the court explained, gives the trial judge the opportunity to cure the defect by instructing the jury to disregard the comment.

The court explained that, in some cases, however, testimony or comments will be so “incurably prejudicial” that an instruction to disregard it will not cure the potential harm it carries. In these cases, the party suffering potential harm does not need to object, because doing so would only highlight the suspect comments. Instead, the party can remain silent in hopes that the comments are overlooked by the jury and, if that is not the case as evidenced by an unfavorable verdict, can then move for a new trial.

Here, the court held that defense counsel’s comments were incurably prejudicial in that they allowed for a negative inference to be made regarding the plaintiff’s race or ethnicity. The court explained that comments on race or ethnicity “adversely affect the fairness and equality of justice,” and cannot be tolerated. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered a new trial.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience handling all types of personal injury matters, including those involving sensitive issues including race, ethnicity, gender-identity, and sexuality. We approach every one of our clients with the utmost respect and dignity, and fight tirelessly on their behalf. To learn more, call 610-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Reverses Plaintiff’s Award in Bus Accident Case Based on Improper Jury Instruction, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published June 19, 2018.

Court Upholds Substantial Jury Verdict in Recent Truck Accident Case, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published July 4, 2018.

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