Although the majority of personal injury lawsuits will end up being resolved via settlement prior to trial, those that do go to court will require that a jury weigh all the relevant evidence and make decisions regarding liability and damages. We place an extraordinary amount of trust on these individuals, and we expect them to take their duty seriously and abide by court rules pertaining to impartiality. When there is evidence of juror misconduct, it can result in serious repercussions for both sides – up to and including the need for a new trial.
This could end up being the case in Laylock v. TMS Logistics, where plaintiff was awarded $3.5 million in a trucking accident, a damage award that might now be in jeopardy if juror misconduct requires a new trial. Plaintiff filed a certiorari petition (request for review) from Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal to halt the juror interviews into the alleged misconduct before they begin. The defendant sought the interviews in connection with its pending motion for a new trial.
However, the appellate court ruled that because any harm plaintiff might suffer could be remedied on appeal, his petition was dismissed. That means the juror interviews may proceed, which could open the door for a new trial.
According to court records, plaintiff suffered serious injuries when a driver working operating a tractor-trailer for defendant company allegedly crashed into plaintiff. The case went to trial in 2015, three years after the collision, with jurors assigning defendant 95 percent damages and plaintiff 5 percent damages and awarding plaintiff $3.5 million, which included compensation for medical bills as well as pain and suffering.
However, at a hearing just a few days after the verdict was reached, the trial court made an announcement that a juror had contacted the court and spoke to the judge’s assistant. At that time, defendant announced one of its lawyers also had spoken to a juror. The attorney in question said two jurors approached her as she left the courthouse and offered their general opinions on the case, along with specific details on jury deliberations. One juror repeated several times that jurors agreed not to follow the court’s instructions. It was at that time the company sought more information.
Plaintiff objected, but the court ordered a limited interview of one of the jurors. After that interview was conducted, the trial court weighed defendant’s motion for more interviews and ultimately found the defendant’s sworn factual allegations and testimony were evidence of juror misconduct worthy of further review. The misconduct, if proven, would require a new trial, unless plaintiff is able to show there was no reasonable possibility the alleged misconduct affected the verdict. The court then scheduled interviews with the five remaining jurors. This was when plaintiff filed his write of certiorari.
The appellate court dismissed the petition because it found plaintiff’s argument for irreparable harm to be lacking. Plaintiff’s argument that these interviews would needlessly extend litigation required little discussion because the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that continuation of litigation – including time, costs and effort – does not constitute an irreparable harm. The court rejected the other arguments too, including the violation of the sanctity of the jury, though it certified a conflict with the 2nd DCA’s 1986 ruling in Preast v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co. This means we could see this issue come up before the Florida Supreme Court.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Laylock v. TMS Logistics, Jan. 19, 2017, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal
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