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State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Michael D. Gold, et al., Case No. 4D14-2362 (4th DCA)

In Gold, State Farm appealed the trial court's denial of its motion for new trial following a jury verdict in the plaintiffs' favor following trial. The plaintiffs brought suit against State Farm seeking uninsured motorist benefits after an automotive accident. Before closing arguments, the trial court instructed the jury that State Farm insured the plaintiffs and provided uninsured motorist benefits making State Farm responsible for any injuries or damages sustained by the plaintiffs legal caused by the accident. The plaintiffs' counsel began and finished closing argument criticizing State Farm for not taking responsibility for the damages that are covered under the policy, and that the jury's verdict will force State Farm to take responsibility. In addition, the plaintiffs' counsel showed the jury a PowerPoint that included written statements to the same effect, and ended saying "Gold has done the right thing all along. Has the Defendant?" State Farm objected to these arguments and the PowerPoint slides, but the trial court overruled those objections. The jury found for the plaintiffs.

The Fourth District began by noting that "[a]lthough an attorney is accorded great latitude in closing arguments, this leeway is not unbridled." A motion for new trial should be granted if a party's closing argument is so highly prejudicial and inflammatory that it denies the opposing party a right to a fair trial. "Comments that rise to this level include comments about an insurance company refusing to own up to the responsibility that they have."

The Fourth District found that the "cumulative effect of [the plaintiffs' counsel's] statements and the trial court's jury instruction that focused the jury's attention on State Farm's liability and culpability rather than on the issue of damages compels" may have contributed to the verdict. Therefore, the Fourth District reversed the trial court's order and remanded for a new trial.


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