Standard of Review

“Other Products” Evidence to Support Alternate Causation Theory

Posted by David Adelstein on May 30, 2016
Appeal, Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on “Other Products” Evidence to Support Alternate Causation Theory

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The recent case of Arizona Chemical Company, LLC v. Mohawk Industries, Inc., 41 Fla. L. Weekly D1213a (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) is a case I discussed regarding lost profit damages. Check out that article here. But, this case also raised an interesting trial and appellate issue involving “other products” evidence to support an alternate causation argument, such as when a specific product or manufactured component fails.

This case involved a manufacturer of a specific brand of carpet suing the manufacturer of resin that was used in manufacturing the failed carpet brand. The carpet manufacturer claimed that the resin failure caused an increase in warranty claims and consumer complaints.

Applicable here is the carpet manufacturer’s pre-trial motion in limine to prevent the resin manufacturer from introducing evidence about other brands manufactured by the carpet manufacturer (that did not use the resin) that contemporaneously failed and also resulted in spikes in consumer claims. In particular, the resin manufacturer intended to introduce evidence at trial of consumer claim spikes related to three other brands of carpet manufactured by the carpet manufacturer, although none of the other brands used the resin. The resin manufacturer claimed that such contemporaneous failures indicate that something other than the resin caused the failure in all of the brands. An alternate causation argument. Makes sense, right? The trial court, however, granted the carpet manufacturer’s motion in limine since the other products were dissimilar to the failed carpet brand at-issue (as none of the other brands used the resin) precluding this “other products” evidence from being introduced during trial.

Post-trial, the resin manufacturer appealed, among other issues, the trial court’s granting of the motion in limine. The First District held that the relevance of “other products” evidence is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review. In reviewing this issue under this abuse of discretion standard of review, the First District affirmed the trial court’s preclusion of this “other products” evidence finding that such evidence was NOT relevant:

 

Generally, evidence of “possible explanations” for the plaintiff’s harm other than the defendant’s negligence is relevant and must be admitted. To establish the relevance of particular alternative-causation evidence, however, the defendant must provide a competent evidentiary link between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s theory. This threshold requirement exists as a function of the relevance rule, even though the defendant does not carry a quantifiable burden of proof as to the alternative explanation.

Here, Arizona’s [resin manufactuer] basic argument is that the excluded evidence was relevant to rebut Mohawk’s [carpet manufacturer] point that the timing of Unibond’s [specific failed carpet brand at-issue] claims spike indicates that Arizona’s resin was the cause of the Unibond defects. The excluded evidence established that other products manufactured in the same Mohawk facility without Arizona’s resin experienced claims spikes at approximately the same time as Unibond. When these two points are considered outside the context of the remaining evidence, they make a compelling case for an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. Of course, context is key. When the trial court’s decision is viewed in the context in which Mohawk used the evidence of Unibond’s claims spike and the limitations of the evidence concerning other products’ claims spikes, the basis for the manner in which the trial court exercised its discretion in this case is understandable.

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Arizona argues that the evidence of other products’ claims spikes rebuts Mohawk’s causation theory because this evidence bears on the likelihood that other factors caused the Unibond claims spike. The specific factors Arizona suggests are poor quality control and lack of adherence to manufacturing protocol. However, there is no evidentiary basis in the record for supplying the connection between contemporaneous claims spikes of the four product lines and these factors. The record supports a theory that there may have been some general quality-control failings at the facility, but Arizona has not identified any evidence to substantiate its conclusion that problems with quality control explained the defects in the non-Unibond products. In fact, evidence Arizona submitted in opposition to Mohawk’s motion indicates that Mohawk traced the causes of the defects in the other products to design flaws and choices of raw materials, not quality-control or procedural failures.

Without a more direct connection between the other products’ failures and Unibond’s failures, the evidence of the other products’ failures showed causation, or rebutted Mohawk’s causation theory, only to the extent that it showed Mohawk has a propensity to produce bad carpet. Introducing evidence for this purpose is improper. In light of these considerations, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to exclude the other-product evidence as legally irrelevant to the issue of liability.

Arizona Chemical Company, LLC, supra (internal quotations omitted).

When relying on “other products” evidence to support an alternate causation theory, it is important to connect the dots and create the evidentiary link between the other products’ failures and the failure at-issue. In other words, you need to create the evidentiary link supporting an alternative theory of causation by relying on the “other products” evidence.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

Posted by David Adelstein on May 21, 2016
Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Motion for Directed Verdict (or to Set Aside the Verdict) is an Important Trial Consideration

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After the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict. (Check out this article too for more on directed verdicts.)  The court denies the motion for a directed verdict. You put on your defense and then the case is submitted to the jury. The jury returns a verdict in favor the plaintiff. You then move to set aside the verdict (also called a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict). The trial court denies your motion and enters final judgment consistent with the jury’s verdict. You appeal the trial court’s denial of the motion for directed verdict / motion to set aside the verdict.

An appellate court must review a trial court’s determination on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict de novo and “evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing every reasonable inference flowing from the evidence in the non-moving party’s favor.” Miami-Dade Cnty. v. Eghbal, 54 So. 3d 525, 526 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011). Additionally, we must sustain a jury verdict if it is supported by competent substantial evidence. Hancock v. Schorr, 941 So. 2d 409, 412 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

Frieri v. Capital Investment Services, Inc. , 41 Fla.L.Weekly D1189a (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).  

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence in favor of the non-moving plaintiff (part that did not move for the directed verdict) drawing reasonable inferences in its favor. If there was competent substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict, the court will affirm the judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Now what if after the plaintiff puts on its case-in-chief, you, as the defendant, move for a directed verdict and the trial court grants the directed verdict in your favor and against the plaintiff.   The plaintiff appeals the trial court’s granting of your motion for directed verdict.

While the standard of review for the trial court’s entry of a directed verdict is de novo, an appellate court “can affirm a directed verdict only where no proper view of the evidence could sustain a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.Banco Espirito Santo Int’l, Ltd. v. BDO Int’l, B.V., 979 So. 2d 1030, 1032 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008) (quoting Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So. 2d 315, 329 (Fla. 2001)).

Frieri, supra.

In other words, the appellate court will evaluate the evidence to see if no proper view of the evidence, and all inferences drawn from the evidence, could support a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Thus, if the plaintiff fails to introduce any evidence substantiating its claims (or a claim) against the defendant (i.e.,to sustain a verdict in favor of the plaintiff), then the appellate court will affirm the directed verdict.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Difference Between Lay Opinion Testimony and Expert Opinion Testimony

Posted by David Adelstein on April 07, 2016
Appeal, Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Difference Between Lay Opinion Testimony and Expert Opinion Testimony

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Although I have numerous blog articles regarding the appellate standard of review when it comes to the admissibility of evidence, it is important to remember that “[a] trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion; however, the trial court’s interpretation of the evidence code is reviewed de novo.” L.L. v. The State of Florida, 41 Fla.L.Weekly D854a (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).

In L.L., a criminal case, a police officer testified that he smelled the strong odor of marijuana from the defendant and that a plastic bag in defendant’s possession contained marijuana. The defendant objected that the officer’s opinions about the smell being marijuana and the substance in the bag being marijuana was an improper lay opinion and constituted expert opinion testimony (governed by the Daubert standard). The trial court allowed this testimony and the issue on appeal was whether such testimony was expert opinion testimony or proper lay opinion (fact witness) testimony.

The appellate court held that the officer’s testimony or opinions about the smell and substance being marijuana was proper lay witness opinion testimony governed under Florida Evidence Code 90.701:

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, the [lay] witness’s testimony about what he or she perceived may be in the form of inference and opinion when:

(1) The witness cannot readily, and with equal accuracy and adequacy, communicate what he or she has perceived to the trier of fact without testifying in terms of inferences or opinions and the witness’s use of inferences or opinions will not mislead the trier of fact to the prejudice of the objecting party; and

(2) The opinions and inferences do not require a special knowledge, skill, experience, or training.

The appellate court’s holding included a very good discussion explaining in detail why the officer’s opinion was proper lay opinion testimony as opposed to expert opinion testimony governed by the Daubert standard:

In addition to the requirement that lay opinion testimony be based on the personal knowledge and perception of the witness, the Advisory Committee Notes explain that courts should consider the witness’s method of reasoning: “the distinction between lay and expert witness testimony is that lay testimony ‘results from a process of reasoning familiar in everyday life,’ while expert testimony ‘results from a process of reasoning which can be mastered only by specialists in the field.‘ ” …As one scholar has explained:

[T]he distinction lies in whether the witness’s reasoning process entails a reliable methodology beyond everyday reasoning. A lay witness, however experienced, offers no methodology beyond ordinary reasoning. An expert is equipped to draw more sophisticated, yet still reliable, inferences. The crux of expert testimony is that it presents inferences that are supported through the application of a reliable methodology. Thus, the witness who relies on experience to support an expert opinion cannot simply claim insights arrived at by applying everyday reasoning to that experience base, but must explain the methodology employed to reach that opinion. An experienced witness who does not bring such methodology to bear should be subject to the restrictions of the lay opinion rule.

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One important reason the Daubert standard [governing the admissibility of expert witness opinions] imposes a more demanding reliability inquiry upon expert opinion testimony is that the opinion results from a methodology or reasoning process that might be foreign to the trier of fact….But in cases such as the one now before us, even if the trier of fact does not have the personal experience necessary to identify the substance in question, the reasoning process is not “foreign in kind.” Many people who have seen and smelled marijuana would be able to recognize it in the same way they recognize anything else they have seen or smelled before.

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Here, Officer Munecas’s reasoning process is nothing that requires a specialist in the field of drug identification; it is reasoning familiar in everyday life.

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Finally, we hasten to add that although the more demanding Daubert admissibility standard does not apply to lay opinion testimony, there is nevertheless a reliability inquiry. Not only must lay opinion testimony be based on the witness’s personal knowledge, section 90.604, Florida Statutes, and perceptions, section 90.701, Florida Statutes, but the witness must have sufficient personal knowledge to support the opinion.

L.L., supra (internal citations omitted).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Prejudicial Closing Argument Could Result in Mistrial / New Trial

Posted by David Adelstein on March 27, 2016
Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Prejudicial Closing Argument Could Result in Mistrial / New Trial

 

Closing argument is a very, very important part of jury trials to sum up the evidence in the context / theme of your case based on the applicable law. It is your last opportunity to talk directly to the jury about the theme of your case. Check out this article for the purpose of closing argument.

While lawyers are afforded latitude in presenting closing argument, improper and prejudicial argument could result in an appellate court granting a new trial. The opposing party must, however, timely object to the improper and prejudicial argument in order to properly preserve this objection for appeal. This is typically done at the time of the prejudicial argument with the opposing counsel moving the trial judge to declare a mistrial. See R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Gafney, 41 Fla.L.Weekly D744b (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) quoting Engle v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 945 So.2d 1246, 1271 (Fla. 2006) (“If the issue of an opponent’s improper argument has been properly preserved by objection and motion for mistrial, the trial court should grant a new trial if the argument was ‘so highly prejudicial and inflammatory that it denied the opposing party its right to a fair trial.”). The standard of review on appeal for a motion for a mistrial or new trial based on improper closing is an abuse of discretion standard of review. Gafney, supra.

In Gafney, a wrongful death case against tobacco manufacturers, the plaintiff’s lawyers made improper comments to the jury asking the jury to “send a message” to the tobacco companies through their compensatory damage award in the verdict. The plaintiff’s lawyers also insinuated in closing argument that the defendant’s lawyers were involved in a conspiracy to cover-up the addictive nature of smoking cigarettes.

“Sending a Message” Closing Argument

 

The Fourth District held that “sending a message” argument is inappropriate when asking the jury to send a message with respect to compensatory damages (since this is the purpose of punitive damages and not compensatory damages):

 

“Send a message” arguments have been defined as those that ask a jury to “award money not based on the proof supporting the proper recoverable damages allowed in a wrongful death action, but to remedy wrongful, intentional, as opposed to negligent, conduct,” and those that “suggest[ ] to the jury that a significant verdict will send a message to stop [such] experiences from happening and will make others less likely to act irresponsibly.” The overwhelming weight of Florida jurisprudence informs us that “send a message” arguments are clearly inappropriate when utilized in a way that links the “sending of the message” to a compensatory damage award, and not to the entitlement to, or amount of, punitive damages.

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Exhorting a jury with a “call to action” to use its verdict to “speak loud and speak clear” via a compensatory damage award, as was done repeatedly here, is improper. … However, today we clarify that even when both claims are at issue, a plaintiff may not utilize “send a message” and conscience of the community arguments when discussing whether the plaintiff should be compensated, due to the potential for the jury to punish through the compensatory award. Appellee’s counsel’s comments in this case served only to divert the jurors’ attention from the proper consideration.

Gafney, supra (internal citation omitted).

Ad Hominem Attack on Opposing Counsel

 

The Fourth District also held that closing argument that insinuated that defendant’s counsel was involved in a conspiracy was inappropriate. Closing argument is not intended to attack an opposing counsel for being part of an improper scheme:

There is no question that appellee’s counsel went outside the broad parameters of permissible closing argument when he turned his commentary on opposing counsel. These statements were totally irrelevant to the issue of appellants’ liability. The insinuation that appellants’ attorneys were engaged in a conspiracy with either the defendants or third parties to mislead, conceal, or manipulate as part of an on-going scheme did not merely push the envelope, but instead went wholly beyond the pale.

***

Accusations of wrongdoing by opposing counsel, such as those made in this case, would likely be improper even if made solely to a judge. Here, the comments achieved no other purpose than to discredit appellants’ attorneys in the eyes of the jury, planting in the juror’s minds the thought that the attorneys themselves were engaged in nefarious behind-the-scenes acts….

Gafney, supra.

In another example, you can check out this article for improper closing argument leading to a new trial in a trial against an insurance company.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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De Novo Standard of Appellate Review for Construction of Arbitration Provision

Posted by David Adelstein on February 10, 2016
Standard of Review / Comments Off on De Novo Standard of Appellate Review for Construction of Arbitration Provision

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Your contract contains an arbitration provision meaning you are required to arbitrate your dispute instead of litigate your dispute (in court).  Nonetheless, your opponent files a lawsuit against you and you move to compel the dispute to arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in your contract.  But, the trial court denies your motion to compel arbitration based on its interpretation of the arbitration provision. So, what do you do? You file an interlocutory appeal to appeal this ruling since you want to arbitrate your dispute.  The appellate standard of review for the construction (interpretation) of an arbitration provision is de novo.  See MuniCommerce, LLC v. Navidor, Ltd., 41 Fla. L. Weekly D317b (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) (reversing trial court’s order compelling arbitration based on its construction of arbitration provision).  

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Statutory Construction Subject to De Novo Standard of Appellate Review

Posted by David Adelstein on February 07, 2016
Appeal, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Statutory Construction Subject to De Novo Standard of Appellate Review

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Oftentimes, courts are required to engage in statutory construction and this statutory construction becomes a driving issue in the dispute. Statutory construction is the process of a court interpreting law and then applying that law to a set of facts. For example, if your case turns on the interpretation of a particular Florida statute applied to your facts, this would be statutory construction. 

On appeal, the issue of statutory construction is subject to a de novo standard of appellate review. Taylor Morrison Services, Inc. v. Ecos, 163 So.3d 1286, 1289 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015). A de novo standard of review means the appellate court is going to review the trial court’s record anew without giving deference to the trial court.

I discussed the facts in Taylor Morrison Services here. The issue on appeal was whether a homebuilder (contractor) was unlicensed at the time of contract with the homeowners (per Florida Statutes Chapter 489). The trial court declared that the homebuilder was unlicensed by interpreting Florida’s licensing law and applying that law to the facts before it. In reviewing this issue on appeal (and ultimately reversing the trial court’s statutory construction), the First District stated:

The correctness of the trial court’s order turns on an issue of statutory construction, which is subject to de novo review. Proper statutory analysis begins with the plain language of the statute, which is to be considered in context, and not construed in a way that renders any portion of the statute meaningless. When the [statutory] language is unclear or ambiguous, it is appropriate to apply established principles of interpretation to discern the meaning of the governing text.

Taylor Morrison Services, 163 So.3d at 1289 (internal citations omitted).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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The Certiorari Standard of Review

Posted by David Adelstein on November 13, 2015
Appeal, Standard of Review / Comments Off on The Certiorari Standard of Review

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I previously talked about petitions for writs of certiorari and the certiorari standard of review. A recent Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals explained: “Certiorari review is appropriate when an order [from the trial court] departs from the essential requirements of law, causing material injury throughout the remainder of proceedings below and effectively leaving no adequate remedy on post-judgment appeal.” Robinson v. Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., 40 Fla.L.Weekly D2547b (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).

In this matter, a homeowner filed a lawsuit against his homeowner’s insurance carrier. The insurer moved to abate the lawsuit for purposes of compelling the homeowner to allow the insurer to exercise its right to repair under the policy. However, the homeowner already initiated repairs.   The trial court granted the insurer’s motion to abate and the homeowner filed a petition for writ of certiorari.

The Fourth District granted the petition quashing the trial court’s order to abate the case. The Court held that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law by abating the homeowner’s lawsuit because if the homeowner performed the repairs the abatement would serve as a dismissal of the case thereby causing material injury to the homeowner. In other words, if the homeowner did the repairs, there were no repairs for the insurer to perform and/or exercise its rights to perform.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Ruling on Admissibility of Evidence Reviewed Under Abuse of Discretion

Posted by David Adelstein on October 06, 2015
Evidence, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Ruling on Admissibility of Evidence Reviewed Under Abuse of Discretion

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The trial court allowed certain testimony / evidence to be introduced at trial.  I objected, but the trial court overruled my objection. That evidence was introduced and I lost the trial.  I am considering an appeal based on the trial court’s admissibility of this evidence.

“Rulings on the admission of evidence are reviewed [on appeal] under the abuse of discretion standard [of review].”  Cantore ex rel. Cantore v. West Boca Medical Center, Inc., 2015 WL 5603449 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).  This discretion, however, is limited by the Florida Rules of Evidence.   Johnston v. State, 863 So.2d 271, 278 (Fla. 2003). 

For example, in Cantore, a medical malpractice action, a pediatric neurosurgeon that treated a minor answered hypothetical questions.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant hospital and the plaintiff appealed.   The plaintiff argued that the the trial court should not have admitted the testimony of the treating doctor in answering hypothetical questions.   The appellate court, in the context of the medical malpractice action, found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this testimony.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Know Your Standard of Appellate Review Regarding the Admissibility of Evidence

Posted by David Adelstein on March 21, 2015
Appeal, Standard of Review, Uncategorized / Comments Off on Know Your Standard of Appellate Review Regarding the Admissibility of Evidence

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The standard of appellate review regarding the trial court’s admissibility of evidence is an abuse of discretion. See Vavrus v. City of Palm Beach Gardens, 927 So.2d 992 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006); Castaneda ex rel. Cardona v. Redlands Christian Migrant Ass’n, Inc., 884 So.2d 1087 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004).  Naturally, a party needs to preserve this issue by objecting to the admissibility of the evidence.  If a trial court sustains an objection and excludes the evidence, the party trying to introduce the evidence should make a proffer / offer of proof

On the other hand, the standard of review for the trial court’s interpretation of a contract, which is a question of law, is subject to the much more favorable de novo standard of appellate review. See Jenkins v. Eckard Corp., 913 So.2d 43 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005); RNK Family Limited Partnership v. Alexander-Mitchell Associates, 788 So.2d 1035 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001). This means the appellate court can examine the contract and reach a completely different legal interpretation than the trial court. See Leisure Resorts, Inc. v. City of West Palm Beach, 864 So.2d 1163 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). Best explained by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Gilman Yacht Sales, Inc. v. FMB Investments, Inc.766 So.2d 294, 296 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000) (internal citations omitted):

The interpretation of a written contract is a question of law to be decided by the court. An appellate court is not bound to give the trial judge’s interpretation or construction of a contract any weighted presumption of correctness. To the contrary, a decision construing a contract is reviewable on appeal under a de novo standard of review, and therefore we are required to consider for ourselves anew the meaning of the disputed contractual language.

It is important for parties to know the standard(s) of appellate review they may confront when appealing a trial court’s ruling as the standard of review will dictate the amount of deference the appellate court is required to give the trial court’s ruling. A de novo standard of review is much more favorable than an abuse of discretion standard of review.  The appellate standard of review is an essential component of appellate practice and will be identified in an appellate brief.   And, besides the standard of review, a party defending an appeal (appellee) may argue that to to the extent the trial court erred, such error was nothing more than a harmless error that did not contribute to the verdict.  

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Voir Dire and Reasonable Opportunity to Examine Prospective Jurors

Posted by David Adelstein on January 25, 2015
Appeal, Standard of Review, Voir Dire / Comments Off on Voir Dire and Reasonable Opportunity to Examine Prospective Jurors

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Voir dire, as mentioned in prior postings, is a very important part of the jury trial process.   Voir dire is when the parties have an opportunity to examine and question prospective jurors in the context of their theme and case in order to determine which six jurors (and alternate) should be sworn in on the jury panel. The objective behind voir dire is to ensure that parties have a fair and impartial jury. Williams v. State, 424 So.2d 148 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982).

 The right of parties (and even the trial court) in civil dispute to engage in voir dire is set forth in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.431 which provides in pertinent part:

(b) Examination by Parties. The parties have the right to examine jurors orally on their voir dire. The order in which the parties may examine each juror shall be determined by the court. The court may ask such questions of the jurors as it deems necessary, but the right of the parties to conduct a reasonable examination of each juror orally shall be preserved.”

The trial court has discretion to control voir dire including limiting argumentative or repetitive examination. Leamon v. Punales, 582 So.2d 8 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991); Allen v. Se-Go Industries, Inc., 510 So.2d 1097 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987) (trial court had discretion to conduct voir dire and then limit each party to 20 minutes to examine prospective jurors); but see Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So.2d 123 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006) (trial court limiting parties voir dire to 30 minutes to examine 19 prospective jurors was arbitrary and constituted reversible error).

A trial court’s control or limitations imposed on voir dire will not be disturbed unless the trial court abused its discretion. Sisto v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., 689 So.2d 438 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). Hence, the standard of appellate review is abuse of discretion. A trial court will be deemed to abuse its discretion in controlling the voir dire process if it prevents a party of its right in conducting a reasonable examination to ensure a fair and impartial jury is selected.   A reasonable voir dire examination assists the parties “in determining whether a particular juror should be the subject of either a challenge for cause or a peremptory challenge.Carver, 920 So.2d at 124 (quotation and citation omitted). Thus, it would be an abuse of discretion to deprive a party of this right to reasonably identify prospective jurors to challenge. See id.

For instance, in the personal injury case Sisto, the trial court prevented the plaintiff from inquiring as to prospective jurors’ views concerning personal injury lawsuits and damage awards. This limitation prevented the plaintiff from going into prospective jurors’ views and feelings on non-economic damages that are largely the type of damages awarded in a personal injury case. Naturally, this is an important aspect of a personal injury case that impacted the plaintiff’s exercise of peremptory challenges or excusing a prospective juror for cause based on that juror’s feelings and views about non-economic damages awarded in the personal injury context. The jury found for the plaintiff but did not award the plaintiff any non-economic damages. The plaintiff appealed and the appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the plaintiff’s voir dire examination and remanded the case for a new trial.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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