Deficient Jury Instruction could Amount to Reversible Error
In a recent case, Cooper v. Federated National Insurance Company, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D2961a (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), involving an insured suing their property insurer for bad faith, discussed in more detail here, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the insurer and against the insured. The insured appealed arguing that the trial court’s bad faith jury instruction amounted to reversible error. The trial court refused to present to the jury the jury instruction drafted by the insured and instead went with a standard form bad faith jury instruction. The appellate court agreed that the standard form jury instruction amounted to reversible error as the insurer could NOT argue that the deficient jury instruction did not contribute to the jury’s verdict against the insured. In other words, had the trial court went with the more complete bad faith jury instruction drafted by the insured, the jury could have returned a verdict for the insured instead of the insurer.
We recognize that trial courts are afforded broad discretion in instructing a jury and that “appellate courts do not find reversible error unless the error complained of resulted in a miscarriage of justice, or the instruction or failure to give a requested instruction was reasonably calculated to confuse or mislead the jury.” However, we find that the instruction given in this case resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
Jury instructions are important. A deficient jury instruction is not remediated by an attorney arguing during closing argument. The insured’s counsel, in this case, objected to the deficient jury instruction and preserved this issue for appeal and, as a result, a new jury trial was ordered.
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