Juror’s “Distressing” Behavior Not Enough to Justify New Trial in Florida Car Accident Case – Morgan v. Milton

Jury selection is an important aspect of a Florida personal injury lawsuits. The questions posed to potential jurors – and their responses to these questions – can ultimately play a role in the outcome of the case. In Morgan v. Milton, the First District Court of Appeal considers what to do when one of those jurors is less than truthful in the selection process.

Marybeth Morgan was injured in a Florida car accident in which the car she was driving was hit by a vehicle driven by Annie Milton. Although she was awarded nearly $500,000 in compensatory damages by a jury following a trial on her negligence claim against Milton, Morgan later appealed the award citing juror misconduct.

Specifically, Morgan claimed that one of the jurors – Sabrina Poppell – lied about her involvement in other litigation. Poppell remained silent when the court asked prospective jurors whether any of them had been involved in an automobile accident or had been a party to a lawsuit. Morgan was allotted three “peremptory strikes” which she could use to remove three potential jurors from the pool. She used them to eliminate two members who had been previously involved in accidents and one who planned to attend a football game the night before trial.

On the same day that the jury rendered its verdict, the trial judge noticed an upcoming collections case on his docket in which Poppell was the defendant. He notified the parties and Morgan filed a motion for new trial. In a hearing on the matter, the judge found that although Poppell intentionally misled the court, Morgan did not show that the misrepresentation was material and that a new trial was warranted as a result.

On appeal, the First District affirmed the decision. “At first blush, the denial of a new trial here seems unfair to Ms. Morgan,” the Court noted. Nevertheless, the Court explained that “not all false answers are significant enough to make a jury verdict sufficiently unreliable to justify a new trial.”

In order to support a reversal, Morgan was required to show that the information about which Poppell lied was relevant and material to jury service in the matter, that she concealed the information during questioning and the concealment was not attributable to Morgan’s “lack of diligence.” While the Court found that the second and third elements had been clearly established, it agreed with the trial court that Poppell’s concealment of her involvement in the collections case was not material to the car accident litigation at hand.

Specifically, the Court took note that Morgan did not use peremptory challenges to remove other potential jurors who had been involved in other litigation from the jury pool. “Her strikes focused primarily on other factors, not litigation experience; admittedly, she did strike the alternate juror who, among other areas of questioning, was asked about an arbitration proceeding with her bank,” the Court explained.

Thus, while Poppell’s conduct was “distressing,” the Court found that it did not warrant a new trial.

If you have been injured in a car accident in Florida, it is important to consult an experienced attorney to ensure the strongest possible legal representation in the event a lawsuit goes to trial. The South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Pompano Beach, Hialeah and Hollywood. Call the Fort Lauderdale office today at 800-747-3733.

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