Court Of Appeal Dismisses Appeal Based On Improper And Prejudicial Counsel Comments

In Moskaleva v. Laurie, the Plaintiff was awarded close to $2 million dollars for many injuries, including a mild traumatic brain injury. ICBC’S lawyer, who did not seek a mistrial at the time the original objection was made, appealed on many grounds, including the ground that the lawyer for the Plaintiff made improper and prejudicial comments in the opening statement to the jury. The British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on all grounds, and addressed the issue of the opening statement as follows.

 

[23] In my view, none of the arguments put forward under the first ground of appeal can succeed.

 

[24] The appellant’s characterization of what was said in the respondent’s opening is overstated and, in some instances, inaccurate.  Prior to counsel for the respondent beginning his opening statement, appellant’s counsel informed the trial judge that he did not dispute that the appellant was negligent but said he was not in a position to admit liability.  As a result of the position taken, liability was obviously in issue.  In the circumstances, for respondent’s counsel to refer to the respondent’s recollection of the accident in his opening statement is unremarkable.  At trial, appellant’s counsel did not object to the description given by respondent’s counsel as to how the accident had occurred and did not complain that respondent’s counsel had “demonized” the appellant.

 

[25] The suggestion that a miscarriage of justice occurred as a result of what was said by respondent’s counsel in his opening about the circumstances of the accident is further undermined when considered along with the submissions on liability made later in the trial.  Before making his final submission to the jury, respondent’s counsel advised the trial judge and appellant’s counsel that he intended to submit that “one of the reasons why we’re here is because Ms. Laurie [the appellant] says she’s not at fault”.  Appellant’s counsel stated he did not have a problem with that submission and later agreed it was appropriate for the trial judge to instruct the jury to find the appellant negligent.  I further note that during the course of his closing submissions, appellant’s counsel told the jury:

 

Now, you’ve heard that Ms. Laurie ran her vehicle into the plaintiff.  There’s no doubt.  There’s no doubt that Ms. Moskaleva was in the intersection.  There’s no doubt that Ms. Moskaleva had the right-of-way.  There is nothing that I could say to suggest that Ms. Moskaleva did anything wrong, or that my client demonstrated all the care that she should have.  She didn’t.  She didn’t.  As a result you may find that my client was negligent.  I don’t have anything to say on that.  Nothing I can say.  I think it’s fairly obvious.

 

[26] In view of the foregoing, there is no substance to the submission that the remarks in the respondent’s opening about the appellant’s manner of driving at the time of the accident resulted in the kind of prejudice that would require a new trial.

 

[31] Of considerable significance in regard to this ground of appeal is the fact that appellant’s counsel told the trial judge he was not seeking a mistrial as a result of anything said during the opening.  This is a case in which appellant’s counsel specifically put his mind to the effect of the opening and elected not to seek an order discharging the jury. A deliberate election, such as occurred in this case, is a powerful circumstance militating against the appellant’s submission that a new trial is required to rectify an unfair trial.  While the facts of the case differ from the case at bar, the observation of Hall J.A. in R. v. Doyle, 2007 BCCA 587 at para. 28, 248 B.C.A.C. 307, is apposite:

 

In my opinion, having made a reasoned decision not to seek a mistrial, I do not consider it is open now to counsel for the appellant to advance an argument that the discovery and use by the judge of the evidence resulted in an unfair trial proceeding.  A rational choice was made at trial by experienced and competent counsel and it wouldnot be appropriate to now allow this point to be the foundation of a contrary position in this Court.

 

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