Closing Arguments: Ceron v. Kamara

Kopec Law Firm

The Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog also discusses cases from other areas of personal injury in which issues that can arise in medical malpractice cases occur. In this Blog post, we look at an evidence issue in the closing argument.

The Circuit Court

The Appellate Court of Maryland issued an unreported opinion in Ceron v. Kamara (Feb. 8, 2024). The case involved a car accident, and the defense agreed to liability. As a result, the only issue for trial was the plaintiff’s damages. The jury awarded the plaintiff $243,000, and the defendant appealed. (Op. at 1).

Closing Arguments
Closing Arguments

Much of the damage case centered specifically on the plaintiff’s claim that she got a herniated disk from the accident and that she had to get surgery to fix it. The plaintiff requested that the jury award her over $717,000 in economic damages and between $480,000 and $2.2 million in non-economic damages. (Id.).

The defense argued that the plaintiff’s herniated disk and treatment were the result of a pre-existing, degenerative condition. The defense called two expert witnesses. Dr. Khan is a radiologist who reviewed the plaintiff’s MRIs. Dr. Moatz is an orthopedic spine surgeon who examined the plaintiff. The defense suggested the jury award approximately $75,000 to the plaintiff. (Id. at 1-2).

Dr. Khan testified that the MRIs revealed that the plaintiff had congenital stenosis before the accident. That condition caused her to have an abnormally narrow spinal canal that made her more susceptible to a herniated disk. He did not express an opinion as to the cause of the plaintiff’s herniated disk. However, Dr. Moatz testified that the plaintiff’s surgery was unrelated to the accident. (Id. at 2-3).

Closing Arguments

During the closing argument, the plaintiff argued that the defendants’ experts were inconsistent. Khan admitted the accident could have exacerbated the plaintiff’s spinal issues. At the same time, Moatz testified that the herniated disk was due to the plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions and was unrelated to the accident. Further, the plaintiff encouraged the jury to speculate why the defense did not ask Khan to testify about the cause of the herniated disk. (Id. at 3).

The plaintiff attacked Moatz as financially motivated and a hired gun. The plaintiff also speculated about the relationship between the defense counsel and Moatz; the defense counsel had told Moatz to wait to write a report until they had talked and that there would be no report if his opinions were unfavorable to the defense. (Id).

In response, defense counsel said they asked Khan to review the MRIs because they had not used Moatz before. The plaintiff objected because that fact was not in evidence. The circuit court overruled the objection. (Id. at 4).

Appellate Court of Maryland Review of Closing Arguments

The standard of review is whether the trial court abused its discretion in overruling the objection and likely injured the plaintiff. Carroll v. State, 240 Md. App. 629, 663 (2019).

The plaintiff argued on appeal that the circuit court had improperly allowed the defense to make statements in closing arguments that were not in evidence. Specifically, the defense said the reason why they hired Dr. Khan. (Id. at 5). The defense argued their statement was a fair response to the plaintiff’s arguments about the defense expert witnesses. The Appellate Court found that it was a close call. However, assuming the comment was improper, the Court held that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate prejudice sufficient to constitute reversible error. (Id. at 7).

The Appellate Court found that the statement was isolated and not severe. Dr. Khan was not even testifying on the central issue at trial: causation. Over two days, the statement was a small part of extensive evidence and argument concerning the experts. As a result, the Appellate Court upheld the verdict. (Id. at 9-10)

Commentary on Closing Arguments

The jury’s verdict was much smaller than the plaintiff had requested. On appeal, the plaintiff was looking for a do-over to get a better verdict from another jury. As a result, the plaintiff had to establish grounds for a reversal of the trial court’s judgment.

Obtaining a reversal based on an improper closing argument is challenging. Firstly, the Maryland courts “afford great leeway” to lawyers in closing arguments. State v. Newton, 230 Md. App. 241, 254 (2016). However, the defense statement was not in evidence here. The circuit court should have sustained the objection, stricken the statement, and instructed the jury not to consider it.


Secondly, the plaintiff had to establish prejudice by showing that the lawyer’s statement “actually misled the jury or were likely to have misled or influenced the jury.” Spain v. State, 386 Md., 145, 158 (2005). The defense lawyer’s comment that they had not used Moatz before was after the plaintiff had argued that Moatz was a hired gun doing it for the money. By stating that they had never hired Moatz before this case, the defense was trying to show that he was not their go-to guy who would say anything.

Although the comment was improper, the Appellate Court got it right by ruling that it did not satisfy the prejudice requirement. Whether the defense had worked with Moatz before was unlikely to mislead the jury to an incorrect verdict.

It can be challenging to determine why a jury does not return a verdict you believe is appropriate. It was probably not due to the defense comment at issue. 

Mark Kopec is a top-rated medical malpractice lawyer. You can contact him on 800-604-0704 for a free consultation. The Kopec Law Firm is located in Baltimore and pursues cases throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C. Thank you for reading the Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog.

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