Cause Challenges for Caps On Damages and Rising Insurance Rates

January 26, 2008

This week, in Rodriguez v. Lagomasino, 972 So. 2d 1050 (Fla 3rd DCA 2008) the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a defense verdict in an auto accident case because the trial judge failed to strike two questionable jurors for cause. During voir dire, prospective Juror Gutierrez said he would not favor either side and would be “in the middle,” but he had also said his wife had been in an auto accident and his insurance company was going double his rates. He said he did not know if he could put his wife’s situation aside. Another prospective juror, Mr. Hillberry said he thought there should be caps on damages because of all the frivolous lawsuits in our litigious society. Juror Hillberry said he doubted his “thoughts” would come into play in this particular case, but he admitted it was possible they could. The Miami trial judge, Daryl Trawick, refused to strike the jurors for cause because “based upon their responses” he felt “they were rehabilitated.”

The Third District reversed based on Florida law’s well established “reasonable doubt” standard, and cited Nash v. General Motors Corp. 734 So. 2d 437 (Fla 3d DCA 1999), “When any reasonable doubt exists as to whether a juror possesses the state of mind necessary to render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence submtted and the instructions on the law given to her by the court, she should be excused.”