Juror Bias Is Cause For Challenge In A Vicarious Liability Case

Personal Injury

In the case of Dayana St. Vil Lopez v. Yo Roofing and Associates, Inc. and Scott Allen Voorhees, Case number 4D17-2075 (Fla. 4th DCA June 27, 2018), Florida’s Fourth DCA held that a juror who clearly expressed bias against holding a party vicariously liable for a car accident must be dismissed from the jury due to a challenge for cause.

Case Background

This case arose when Ms. St. Vil Lopez was involved in a car accident with Mr. Voorhees. Voorhees was driving a company truck for Yo Roofing. Voorhees died during the lawsuit and the parties agreed (as appropriately civil attorneys should do) to sue only Yo Roofing as employers are vicariously liable for actions of employees in the State of Florida.

As such, Yo Roofing is vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior the negligence of Voorhees while he is doing his job (course and scope of employment) and, because Voorhees was driving a company owned vehicle, Yo Roofing is also vicariously liable under the “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine as owners of motor vehicles are responsible for accidents caused by their vehicles. What is undetermined is whether Voorhees was negligent or not in causing the accident.

Nothing is out of the ordinary in that regard in this case for a Florida car accident case. When Voorhees died during the lawsuit, the plaintiff had the option of “forcing” open a probate estate. However, attorneys who are civil to each other know that the insurance policy covering the accident is the same and that there is no real purpose in opening a probate estate for Voorhees.

What Did The Juror Say?

The Fourth DCA clearly felt (and I could not agree more) that this juror should have been dismissed for cause. In voir dire (jury selection), the juror and the plaintiff’s attorney engaged in the following discourse on the record:

[Plaintiff’s counsel}: If you believed by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence showed that the employee was at fault, could you render a verdict knowing that it was against the employer, if that employee was just–because that employee is int he scope of their employment?

[Juror]: I don’t think so.

[Plaintiff’s counsel}: You don’t think so?

[Juror]: No.

Clearly this juror did not understand how vicarious liability in Florida works and it served as a mental block for her in serving as a juror. That is a textbook example of juror bias and is a textbook reason why she should not be on the jury.

Legal Standard On Juror Impartiality In Florida

It is well established under Florida law that “[i]f there is a reasonable doubt about [a] juror’s impartiality, the juror should be dismissed for cause.” See Bell v. Greissman, 902 So. 2d 846 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

So What Happened In This Case?

The plaintiff’s lawyer appears to have challenged this juror for cause. The Fourth DCA opinion implies that the trial judge may not have remembered (or heard) the juror indicate that she could not render a verdict against an employer.

Attorneys for the insurance company contended that the plaintiff’s lawyer should have asked more questions than the dialogue above. The Fourth DCA said that her bias was clearly evident and that no further questioning would have been needed.

Further, the insurance company lawyers argued that the the plaintiff’s lawyer should have brought to the trial judge’s attention the transcript where she said what she said. Astutely, the Fourth DCA said that “[i]f the trial court did not remember the answers, the court should have ordered the court reporter to read that portion of the transcript before denying the challenge.”

These arguments from the insurance company’s lawyers are laughable double-speak. If the tables were turned, you can imagine that the insurance company lawyers would argue that it was clear as day that this juror was biased. The only thought that crosses my mind in this regard is that they must have thought that they could take advantage of the fact that the trial judge did not remember the juror’s dialogue with plaintiff’s counsel (don’t forget that judges are merely human beings like the rest of us and that sometimes being a judge is a hard job). It is very hard to believe that the only people who heard the dialogue were the plaintiff’s lawyer and the court reporter.

Call Us For Help On Your Case

Getting fair and impartial jurors on your case is essential to getting a fair result. As you can see, getting fair and unbiased jurors is sometimes a challenge even for seasoned personal injury attorneys. This is why you should have the help of an attorney who regularly practices in personal injury cases and stays current on the law. Call today for your free consultation with a Lakeland, Florida personal injury attorney.

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June 28, 2018