Florida Appellate Court Denies Motion for New Trial Based on Juror’s Social Media Postings

A recent Florida appellate case illustrates the dramatic impact that social media can have on litigation. In Murphy v. Roth, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident. The issues of whether the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s damages and the amount that the plaintiff was entitled to receive as compensation, if anything, were hotly contested. During trial, the plaintiff asserted that her vehicle was struck in the rear “by a phantom vehicle,” which caused her car to swerve. She lost control and then was hit by the defendant’s vehicle and forced off the road.

The defendant refuted this by saying that the plaintiff’s vehicle collided with his vehicle on the rear passenger side, forcing his car to the right. Then, the plaintiff’s car struck the front right side of his car, which caused him to spin off the roadway.

Voir dire is a process in a trial that is used to select jurors. During the procedure, both parties have an opportunity to ask jurors questions and object to any jurors being on the final jury panel. Objections can be based on biases, but the parties each have a number of objections they can make without having to give an explanation as to why they would like to remove that prospective juror.

At the start of voir dire, the judge informed the jury pool that they were not allowed to communicate with anyone about the case, even before they were empanelled as jurors. The attorneys asked the prospective jurors whether they had been involved in accidents or whether they or a family member had received a spinal repair procedure, a treatment that the plaintiff alleged she required as a result of her accident-related injuries.

The jury was eventually selected and sworn in. Again, the judge instructed the jury to forgo speaking with anyone about the case. The trial proceeded, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, but apportioning fault between the parties. It allocated 60 percent fault to the plaintiff and 40 percent fault to the defendant.

After the verdict, the plaintiff filed a motion requesting an opportunity to interview a juror in light of new information about that juror’s ability to serve on the jury. She also filed a motion for a new trial. In support of these motions, the plaintiff attached numerous tweets from Juror 5 that related to the lawsuit and the trial. The lower court granted the interview. At the hearing, the juror admitted to posting the tweets. Relying on a Third Circuit appellate opinion, the lower court concluded that the tweets “‘were nothing more than harmless ramblings having no prejudicial effect’” and denied the plaintiff’s motions. The appellate court affirmed this, agreeing that although the tweets clearly violated the prohibition against talking about the case, they did not show a bias or compromise the fairness of the proceedings.

If you have been involved in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, we have assisted many Southwest Florida accident victims with seeking compensation for their injuries. Representing victims in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral, we provide a free consultation to discuss your situation and how we may be able to help you. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online.

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