Sidewalk Trip-and-Fall Victim Denied New Trial Because Failure to Let Her Show Photographs of Defect to Jury Was "Harmless Error"

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York

Case: Geary v. Church of St. Thomas Aquinas

Date: Aug. 22, 2012

From: New York attorney Gary E. Rosenberg (personal injury and accident attorney and lawyer; serving Queens; Queens injury lawyer)

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Facts: This accident raises some interesting questions of evidence and trial practice. Geary fell on a broken sidewalk next to the defendant church. After trial on the issue of liability, a jury found that the church was not negligent and this accident case dismissed. She appealed, claiming the that trial judge made a mistake in not letting her show her photos of the sidewalk to the jury, and that she should be permitted to have a new trial.

The Law: It is made difficult to disregard a jury's verdict in an accident case. To do so, the jury must have reached an irrational decision or a decision that couldn't have been reached by any fair evaluation of the evidence. The jury gets to decide if witnesses are believable and such.

Holding: The jury here could have reached its verdict based on rational reasoning and by a fair interpretation of the evidence to decide that the church was not negligent.

And in one of those unfair decisions that courts sometimes make, it decides that "yes" Geary should have been allowed to show her sidewalk photographs to the jury. Then the court goes on to say "wait a minute," this mistake wouldn't changed the jury's decision and so was "harmless" error. Geary is not entitled to a new trial. If you think it's impossible and rather unfair for a court to say that seeing photographs of where the accident occurred would not have changed the mind of a jury -- without even describing in its decision what the photographs show -- you would be correct. Nonetheless, Geary loses and her case is dismissed.

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