Fifth District Court of Appeals Reverses Grant for a New Trial in Medical Malpractice Case

Embryologist performing In Vitro Fertilization in the LaboratoryGenerally, jury verdicts are rarely disturbed. Unless there is a grievous error that likely had a material impact on the judgment reached, judges will neither issue a ruling notwithstanding the verdict nor order a new trial. This aversion to modifying judgment was illustrated in a recent decision from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, Weissman v. Radiology Associates of Ocala, P.A., which involved the propriety of a trial court’s order for a new trial in a wrongful death case that had resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Weissman concerned an alleged act of medical negligence leading to the wrongful death of a patient. Following the patient’s death, the representative for the deceased plaintiff brought suit against Radiology Associates of Ocala and personnel. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Thereafter, the defendants performed a background investigation on the jurors and filed a motion for the court to conduct juror interviews, alleging that there existed material non-disclosures among several of the jurors. The court performed these interviews and then granted the defendants’ separate motion for a new trial, having found that three jurors had indeed failed to make material disclosures during voir dire questioning. The plaintiff then brought an appeal.

Despite the failure of certain jurors to disclose material information, the Fifth District Court of Appeal nonetheless found that granting a motion for a new trial was in error and unanimously reversed. Under Florida law, there is a three-part test to determine whether a juror’s non-disclosure during voir dire warrants a new trial:  1) “the complaining party must establish that the information is relevant and material to jury service in the case”; 2) “the juror concealed the information during questioning”; and 3) “the failure to disclose the information was not attributable to the complaining party’s lack of diligence.” De La Rosa v. Zequeira, 659 So.2d 239, 241 (Fla. 1995). In this case, the Fifth District Court of Appeals determined that none of the three non-disclosures satisfied this standard.

First, during voir dire, jurors were asked if any of them had been to the defendants’ medical facility or had “negative feelings about doctors, hospitals, or healthcare providers or had other healthcare issues that might somehow come into play here.” Although no jurors answered affirmatively, the defendants produced documents that one of the jurors had received services from the defendants and had her account go into collections. However, the defendants failed to properly authenticate these documents. Therefore, the court determined that it was improper to introduce those documents into evidence, and thus there was no evidence to satisfy the second prong of the test. Next, the defendants argued that two other jurors’ failure to disclose bankruptcy warranted a new trial. However, the court determined that this failure was attributable to the defendants’ imprecise voir dire questioning, which never explicitly queried whether the jurors had been involved in a bankruptcy. Accordingly, the third prong of the test was not satisfied, since the failure to disclose was “attributable to the complaining party’s lack of diligence.”

Although the plaintiff succeeded in having the jury verdict reinstated on appeal, this decision highlights the variety of different issues that can arise in any case. Indeed, one would not imagine that a medical negligence suit would lead to argument about a juror’s non-disclosure of bankruptcy, but these situations can and do arise, even when the chances of having a new trial are slim. Accordingly, those with possible negligence claims should always consider hiring experienced counsel prior to undertaking action to remedy their injuries. The South Florida wrongful death attorneys at Frankl & Kominsky have many years of experiences litigating before state and federal courts and are prepared to deal with the various issues that may arise. If you’ve recently been injured and are curious about the options you may have, feel free to contact us for a free case consultation.

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