Brokopp v. Ford Motor Company

139 Cal. Rptr. 888 (1977)


Ps sued D for a single vehicle accident. As part of their case, Ps alleged that the power steering belt dislodged from the pulley when the pulley was moving and did not dislodge as a result of the accident. At trial, expert witnesses on each side agreed that the belt itself showed no marks. The obvious conclusion was that no one could conclude that the belt came off while the pulley was moving. D lost the case and appealed in part on the misconduct of Ps' counsel in arguments to the jury. Ps' counsel made a golden rule argument from which the jury might have inferred it was proper in calculating damages to place themselves in P's shoes and award the amount they would 'charge' to undergo equivalent disability, pain, and suffering. Counsel for plaintiffs also argued: 'Save a buck, and that is the only reason I can think of why they would handle things the way they do. These large corporations, in effect, crippled Bob; they took his manhood away from him; they took his privacy from him; they took his body away from him; and they left him in pain. . . .' In argument, counsel also stated: 'You know, in this trial, I never have had more evasive witnesses than Mr. Valant and Mr. Brink. I just never have seen witnesses as Mr. Valant and Mr. Brink who just would not answer a question.' Counsel for plaintiffs also told the jury: 'Bob doesn't have to stay at the V.A. hospital. I don't think that we, the taxpayers, ought to pay for Bob in preference to Ford if they are liable.' Counsel also said he could see marks on the belt and actually pulled out the belt and began marking it with a crayon.  The only conduct D objected to was the belt incident. Ps got the verdict in excess of $3 million. D appealed in part for the improper remarks.