How to Save a Potentially Contaminated Jury Panel

January 30, 2013

During jury selection in a civil trial a prospective juror stated in open court that he was familiar with one of the defendant’s expert medical witnesses. The juror said the expert had “kind of screwed-up my dad’s back,” and that his dad had filed a lawsuit against the doctor. The defense lawyer then moved to strike the entire thirty-seven member jury panel because of the prospective juror’s negative comment.

Thereafter, the judge conducted a day-long, individual, sequestered examination of each member of the panel to determine whether they had heard the comment, and if they had, whether it would affect them in the case. Every potential juror who expressed potential bias as a result of hearing the comment was struck for cause. The jurors which eventually served in the case stated they would be able to disregard the negative comment and apply the law fairly. At the end of the trial, that jury returned a $500,000 verdict for the Plaintiff.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal approved the trial judge’s procedure and affirmed the verdict for the Plaintiff. See Williams v. Osking, 105 So. 3d 653¬†(Fla 4th DCA 2013). The court held the trial judge acted within his discretion, and that this type of procedure had previously been approved by the court in a similar scenario in a criminal case. “Considering we found the procedure sufficient to protect the rights of a criminal defendant when the defendant’s life and liberty were at stake, the same procedure employed by the trial court was clearly sufficient (and within the trial court’s discretion) to protect the rights of the parties in this civil case.” Id.