Sports Illustrated Cover Tainted Jury Trial
(CN) - A Florida attorney went too far by comparing a car-collision victim's case to that of a paralyzed college football player, a state appeals court ruled.
Geoffrey Choy was delivering pizzas when he crashed into a vehicle driven by Sandra Faraldo.
She sued him and Meric Homes dba Vocelli Pizza, and the case eventually went to a jury trial in Broward County.
In his closing argument, an attorney for the defendants noted that Faraldo could no longer work and that a medical expert testified that "she can't do anything."
While he made these remarks, the lawyer was showing jurors the cover of a Sports Illustrated issue depicting former football player Marc Buoniconti in a wheelchair.
The son of former NFL player Nick Buoniconti, Marc was injured in a college game and became a quadriplegic. The SI story discussed Buoniconti's work as president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Faraldo's attorney objected, and the judge ordered the jury to disregard the magazine article.
Choy's attorney replied: "There are people in wheelchairs, that do not have limbs, who are blind. You have to evaluate in terms of a big picture, big picture, all of the evidence in this case."
Faraldo's attorney moved for a mistrial, but the court denied the motion. Choy was found 100 percent liable for the accident, but Faraldo received less money in damages than she requested.
Faraldo asked for a new trial, complaining that the closing argument was prejudicial and inflammatory. The trial court agreed.
The West Palm Beach-based Fourth District Court of Appeals partially agreed, but it limited the new trial to the issue of damages, not liability.
"In this case, we affirm because we find that reasonable minds could differ regarding the inflammatory and prejudicial impact of the improper argument," Judge Cory Ciklin wrote for a three-judge panel.
"The jury returned a verdict finding Choy solely liable for the accident, and the improper argument of Meric's counsel could not possibly be construed as any issue related to liability or whether Choy was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred," Ciklin added.