Going Too Far in Closing Argument

In a recent case from the 4th District Court of Appeal of Florida, the issue of going too far in closing arguments was raised. In the case Reffaie v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., So.3d FLW D2138 (Fla. 4th DCA 9-5-2012) the defense counsel, in a slip and fall case, raised improper closing arguments concerning the plaintiff’s treating physician’s unsubstantiated business relationship with personal injury lawyers and their clients.

On cross examination of the physician, the defense counsel unsuccessfully attempted to get the physician to admit to having improper business relationships with local personal injury firms. During cross examination the defense attorney tried to get an admission that the doctor transported injured clients to the doctor in mass quantities.

Apparently the defense attorney was unable to get the admission from the doctor during cross examination and although no admission was provided continued to address the issue in his closing statement. As a result, even though the jury found for the plaintiff the jury returned a verdict which was less than one third the amount of her medical bills and found her 80% comparatively negligent for the fall.

On appeal, the 4th District Court of Appeal held that the improper closing argument and comments were intended to, and did, impugn the doctor’s credibility and objectivity of the jurors. The DCA noted that the had little issue with the line of questioning, and rather remarked that the problem was the defense counsel continuing in closing arguments as if he had obtained the desired answers from his cross examination, which the record clearly established he had not. Based on the defense attorney's conduct, the court ordered a new trial on damages.

This case can serve as an example of when a litigant goes too far in trial. Although a trial is a highly contested and litigious event, there are boundaries imposed by the Rules of Civil Procedure, Evidence, and the Court’s own local rules that each party must abide by. Going too far may in the end may only cost a party more in terms of time and money spent on appeals and new trials.

If you have a question regarding a personal injury case please don’t hesitate to contact Robert Sparks Attorneys for a free case evaluation.