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NJ: Counsel's Inflammatory Comments Do Not Warrant A New Trial

June 20, 2012

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Barbara Jones filed suit against Albert Pannici for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident.  In turn, Pannici filed a third-party complaint against a phantom driver he claims caused the accident.  Jones’ insurer, Allstate, intervened due to their potential liability under the Uninsured Motorist provision of Jones’ automobile insurance policy.

At trial, Allstate’s attorney made several statements to suggest that Pannici was not telling the truth as to the cause of the accident.  Specifically, in his opening and closing statements, counsel alleged that Pannici became nervous after the accident and lied about the phantom vehicle.  Additionally, during his cross-examination, counsel attempted to elicit testimony to suggest that Pannici’s status as a former police officer made it easy for him to concoct a story about the phantom vehicle.  Pannici’s attorney did not object to any of the comments made.  Ultimately, the jury returned a substantial verdict against Pannici.

Pannici moved for a new trial, arguing that Allstate's counsel's comments in the opening, during the cross-examination and in summation led the jury to believe that something improper had occurred and that Pannici was not being truthful.  The court disagreed with Pannici’s position and found that the comments made by counsel for Allstate did not amount to error so prejudicial as to require a new trial.  Rather, the court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reject Pannici’s version of the accident.

 Thanks to Heather Aquino for her contribution to this post.

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