The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has adopted amendments to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 51(a) to guarantee that defendants will have an opportunity to respond to plaintiff summation anchoring arguments. The amended rule is intended to promote fair trials in the wake of pro-plaintiff legislation enacted in 2014 to allow plaintiffs in civil actions to request a specific amount of damages. (Mass. Gen. Laws. c. 231, §13B).

As explained in a November 2020 article in the American Association for Justice’s TRIAL magazine, “It is well recognized that a numerical anchor influences jurors’ judgment about damages….” Plaintiffs’ lawyers have become increasingly bold in requesting that juries award a specific amount for a client’s noneconomic damages.

Because the plaintiff in Massachusetts presents closing arguments after the defendant, the 2014 statute created the potential for tremendous unfairness – the plaintiff could request a specific amount of damages with the last word at trial, and the defendant would be deprived of any opportunity to respond. Recognizing the potential inequity of the situation, trial courts in Massachusetts have addressed the issue, including by requiring plaintiffs’ counsel to disclose in advance of closing arguments whether the plaintiff will ask the jury for a specific damages amount (and if so, what amount) or by giving defense counsel a limited opportunity to respond as to the amount of damages requested.

Amended Rule 51(a) codifies the practical solution adopted by the trial courts to address a problem that was not addressed by the legislature. The amended rule, which applies to trials that begin on or after March 1, 2022, provides:

Rule 51(a):

(1) Time for Argument.

Counsel for each party shall be allowed thirty minutes for argument; but before the argument commences, the court, on motion or sua sponte, may reasonably reduce or extend the time. When two or more attorneys are to be heard on behalf of the same party, they may divide their time as they elect.

(2) Arguing Damages.

During closing arguments, the parties may suggest a specific monetary amount for damages. If a party suggests a specific monetary amount for damages during closing argument without having provided notice of the intent to suggest the amount to all other parties reasonably in advance of closing arguments, the court shall allow the opposing party a reasonable opportunity to address the amount to the jury.

Defense bar organizations supported the amendment to Rule 51(a) to ensure that civil trials are balanced for all parties.

The amended rule and the Reporter's Notes are available at

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