Brokopp v. Ford Motor Co.
California Court of Appeal
139 Cal. Rptr. 888 (1977)
Robert and Carol Brokopp (plaintiffs) sued Ford Motor Co. (Ford) (defendant) for injuries resulting from a single-vehicle accident. The Brokopps alleged that their automobile’s power steering belt came off its pulley while the pulley was still moving, as opposed to coming off the pulley as a result of the accident. At trial, expert witnesses for both sides concurred that the belt showed no marks from which one could conclude that it came off while the pulley was in motion. In opening and closing arguments, counsel for the Brokopps (1) asserted that the jury should place themselves in Mr. Brokopp’s shoes in determining how large an award to give, (2) appealed to the jurors’ sympathies by comparing Mr. Brokopp with Ford, a large corporation, (3) criticized the evasiveness of Ford’s witnesses, (4) appealed to the jurors’ self-interest by suggesting that Ford rather than taxpayers should pay for Mr. Brokopp’s stay at a V.A. hospital, and (5) suggested that he—and the jurors—could see marks on the power steering belt that were attributable to it coming off of a moving pulley. In discussing the belt, counsel for the Brokopps pulled out a crayon and began marking the belt. Ford’s counsel did not object to any of the foregoing conduct, or request any admonitions, except with respect to the marking of the belt, to which the judge responded by removing the markings and instructing counsel not to mark any exhibits. At the close of trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the Brokopps for $3,010,000. Ford appealed, arguing that the verdict should be overturned because of improper arguments made by plaintiffs’ counsel to the jury.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Kaufman, J.)
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