Fifth District Court of Appeal Allows New Trial in Hotel Slip and Fall Lawsuit

When an injured party seeks justice in a Florida personal injury lawsuit, he or she hopes for impartial fact-finders. To ensure a fair trial for all parties, the civil court system uses a formal process called Voir Dire in the selection of jurors. Several members of the community are called to potentially serve on a jury.  From this pool of citizens, the attorneys for the parties narrow the candidates by asking written and oral questions.  Wet FloorThe jurors are required to answer truthfully so that any disqualifications and biases can be figured out.

In a recent case (Case No. 5D16-1503), the defendant hotel asked to interview a juror and for a new trial following a verdict in favor of a woman injured in a slip and fall accident on its property. The trial court denied both motions, and the hotel appealed. Initially, the case was filed after the injured plaintiff fractured her kneecap after slipping in a puddle of water in the hotel lobby. The kneecap injury required several screws to be surgically placed in her knee. The lawsuit went to a jury trial, in which the jury found the injured woman and the hotel to each be partially negligent. Despite her partial negligence, an award of nearly $400,000 was granted to the injured woman.

During the Voir Dire phase of the jury trial, a juror questionnaire was filled out by each potential juror. Included were two questions that asked if the juror or a member of their immediate family had been a party to a lawsuit and if the juror or a member of their family had been accused, a complainant, or a witness in a criminal case. The juror at issue in this appeal had answered No to both questions, despite several criminal charges and convictions, a bankruptcy, and a divorce. The juror had also lied about her length of residence in Florida. The defendant hotel argued that if the juror had answered those questions truthfully, she would not have been on the deciding panel. To show that the juror’s deceit potentially affected the outcome, the hotel pointed to the major theme in its defense that the injured plaintiff was dishonest about her cellphone use at the time of the slip and fall accident.

In its review, the District Court of Appeal looked at whether the trial court abused its discretion by denying the hotel’s motions to interview the juror and for a new trial. Florida case law requires courts to use a three-part test when ruling on a motion to interview a juror. The party must first show the information is material and relevant. Second, the party must show the juror concealed the information sought during Voir Dire. Finally, the party requesting the interview must show the absence of information from the juror was not due to their own lack of diligence in researching the jurors.

The injured woman argued that the hotel did not exercise due diligence by using imprecise questions. The appellate court flatly rejected that argument, finding the woman’s answers of “No” provided no indication to the hotel it needed to ask further questions. The appellate court found the trial court abused its discretion when it declined to allow the hotel to interview the juror. The court found the juror’s concealment of her past deprived the hotel of an opportunity to use a peremptory strike to remove her from the jury pool. The rulings of the lower court were reversed, and a new trial was granted to the defendant hotel.

This case shows the necessity of having experienced Florida premises liability litigators at your side. The attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the personal injury trial experience to help you with your slip-and-fall case. Call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free, confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016