In Florida personal injury cases, the trial judge is tasked with making decisions about which laws apply to the case and directing the course of the trial. It’s generally up to the jury, however, to determine whether the person suing is entitled to legal relief (damages, etc.) from the person or business being sued. Thus, the jury selection process is an important exercise that can shape the outcome of a particular case. In Pembroke Lakes Mall v. McGruder, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains one important rule that potential jurors must abide by during this process: they have to tell the truth.
Ms. McGruder was injured in a June 2008 accident when she slipped and fell on a clear wet surface while visiting the Pembroke Lakes Mall. She later sued the mall’s owner, alleging that the company was negligent by failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition or to warn visitors of the slippery surface.
During the jury selection process, the trial judge asked each prospective juror whether they or any member of their families had ever participated in a lawsuit, as a party, witness or in some other capacity. The judge clarified that this didn’t include divorce cases. Following trial, the jury found that the mall was negligent and awarded McGruder nearly $270,000 for past and future medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering.
The trial court denied the mall’s motion to conduct post-verdict interviews with the jurors.
Among other arguments, the mall sought to have the verdict overturned on the grounds that certain jurors had failed to disclose their involvement in previous litigation. It said four of the jurors didn’t mention that they had been involved in various litigation over the years, ranging from eviction and small claims cases to personal injury matters, a domestic violence case and various other civil proceedings.
On appeal, the Fourth District agreed with the mall that it should have been given the opportunity to interview the jurors after the verdict. “Where, as here, the basis of a request for post-trial interviews is the jurors’ alleged nondisclosure of information during voir dire, the motion should demonstrate entitlement to a new trial under the three-part test,” the Court explained, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 1995 decision in De La Rosa v. Zequeira. Specifically, the party requesting the interview must show that the allegedly concealed information was relevant and material to the person’s jury service in the case, that the juror actually concealed the information during questioning and that the failure to disclose the information wasn’t due to the complaining party’s lack of diligence.
The Court said mall satisfied this test. “Here, the prior litigation was potentially material to this slip and fall litigation,” the Court found. “At least one of the jurors, Jorge, was involved in a personal injury protection lawsuit and may have participated in other litigation that was relevant and material to the instant case,” it added. Meanwhile, the Court said it was clear that the judge asked these jurors directly whether they had been involved in other litigation and that all four had said “no.” Because they unambiguously denied involvement in any previous cases, the Court said there was no reason for the mall to inquire further at the time.
As a result, the Court reversed the trial court’s decision denying the motion to interview the challenged jurors.
If you were recently injured in an accident at a place of business and are interested in pursuing a claim against the property owner of the premises where you were injured, call the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine today. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Boca Raton, Hialeah and Pompano Beach. Call the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or fill out an on-line “Contact Us” form.
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