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Court Grants Plaintiff’s Request for New Trial Following Veiled Reference to Her Undocumented Status

Posted in Firm News

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman who was injured when her vehicle was struck by the defendant truck driver. The court was tasked with determining whether, despite her failure to object at the time, the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial based on comments at trial referring to her undocumented status. Ultimately, the court concluded that the comments were “incurably prejudicial” and warranted a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when her vehicle collided with the defendant’s truck while the truck driver made a lane change. It was undisputed that the defendant made contact with the plaintiff’s car during a lane change; however, other evidence at trial was hotly contested, including whether the plaintiff was speeding at the time.

Immediately after the accident, the defendant apologized to the plaintiff, acknowledging that he was at fault. However, in later depositions, he took that back, explaining that he learned why the accident had been caused, and upon further reflection no longer believed he was at fault.

The plaintiff, who was originally from Mexico, did not have a valid permit to work in the United States. Originally, the defendant planned on bringing that fact to the attention of the jury; however, the court granted the plaintiff’s request to preclude this evidence based on the prejudice it could carry.

During the trial, however, the defense made two veiled references to the plaintiff’s immigration status. The first was when defense counsel inquired about whether certain medical forms were in Spanish. The second reference was when defense counsel asked the plaintiff’s medical expert whether he was aware if the plaintiff was going to move back to Mexico.

The plaintiff did not object to either reference initially. However, later the plaintiff moved for a new trial when the jury returned a verdict finding that the defendant was not liable. The plaintiff argued that the defense counsel’s comments were “incurably prejudicial” and warranted a new trial.

The Court’s Opinion

The court agreed with the plaintiff, and ordered a new trial. In so doing, the court first explained that normally a party must object at the time when objectionable testimony arises in order to preserve the matter for review. This is to give the trial judge the opportunity to instruct the jury to disregard the testimony.

In cases where a judicial instruction would not cure the prejudice caused by the testimony, however, no objection must be made. This is because the potentially prejudiced side may hope to avoid calling attention to the testimony by not objecting. Here, the court determined that defense counsel’s comments regarding the plaintiff’s ethnicity gave rise for the potential that animus or prejudice that could play a role in the jury’s verdict. This, the court noted, was unacceptable, and thus granted the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. These are contentious times we live in, and while progress has been made over the decades, to ignore the realities of racial and ethnic prejudices would be unwise in the context of a jury trial. These matters should never come into play in a New Mexico personal injury case. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have decades of experience handling all types of New Mexico personal injury cases, and approach each case in a realistic and sensible manner, keeping true to our guiding principle to treat each accident victim as an individual deserving of our concern and respect. To learn more, call 505-889-FINE to schedule your free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Court Affirms Plaintiff’s $164 Million Jury Verdict in Recent Truck Accident Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, July 6, 2018.

Car Comes Disconnected from Tow Truck, Crushing City Worker, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 20, 2018.