Las Olas Holding Co. d/b/a Riverside Hotel v. Demella, No. 4D16-231, 2017 WL 3085329, at *2 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. July 19, 2017)
During opening and closing arguments in a wrongful death action, Plaintiff’s counsel made various inappropriate statements.
The law is clear, “[g]enerally, a mistrial or new trial should be granted only when counsel’s arguments are so inflammatory and prejudicial that they deny the opposing party a fair trial.” Bakery Assocs, Ltd. v. Rigaud, 906 So.2d 366, 367 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005) (quoting Maksad v. Kaskel, 832 So.2d 788, 793 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)
During opening argument, Plaintiff’s counsel stated, “the reason why we are in this courtroom today is that this corporation has refused to accept any responsibility for its role in this death.” The defense objected to this statement, which objection was sustained by the trial court. However, moments later, Plaintiff’s counsel made a similar statement, specifically, “[t]hey will look at everyone else’s conduct but their own. And these are defenses that are just attempts to avoid responsibility.” The Defense moved for a mistrial.
Finally, in closing argument, when seeking damages for wrongful death, Plaintiff’s counsel stated:
What do we put price tags on in our society today? What is it? I mean, if we – what do we pay LeBron James for the excitement that he brings? . . . We pay $30 million a year for the value that he brings in Miami. We pay a boxer $180 million for 12 rounds of boxing. We pay this expert $500 per hour. If her life is worth that type of enjoyment, those are just ways to come about: What is this really worth?
Defense counsel once again moved for a mistrial.
It has been held improper for an attorney to disparage an opposing party’s defense of a case or to suggest that a party should be punished for contesting a claim. Fasani v. Kowalski, 43 So.3d 805, 809 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010). Further, it is error to ask a jury to place a monetary value on the life of a decedent because the value of a human life is not an element of damages and is not the proper topic for closing argument. City of Orlando v. Pineiro, 66 So.3d 1064, 1070 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011).
In reviewing the trial court’s ruling, the Fourth DCA held that the trial court erred in denying Riverside’s motion for mistrial based on the above comments and cautioned against future use of such statements.