Florida Court Finds One Prejudicial Question Does Not Warrant a New Trial

Trial courts have the discretion to grant a new trial based on attorney misconduct. The trial court must engage in a thorough analysis prior to granting a new trial, however, to ensure a new trial is properly warranted. This was discussed in a recent case out of a Florida Court of Appeals, where the Appeals Court overturned an order granting a new trial where the trial court failed to engage in required analysis prior to granting a new trial and the evidence was insufficient to necessitate a new trial. If you sustained property damage or injuries in a South Florida car accident, you should retain an experienced car accident attorney to assist you in your pursuit of damages.

Facts Regarding the Accident

Purportedly, the plaintiff was stopped at a stop sign when she was rear-ended by the defendant. It was undisputed that the defendant was traveling at less than 5 miles per hour when she struck the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff did not report any injuries at the time of the accident, but nine days after the accident the plaintiff alleged she had pain in her left arm. Eight months later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages, alleging she sustained permanent injuries in the accident.

A trial was held, during which the defendant’s attorney asked the plaintiff why her boyfriend testified she did not complain about her injuries if she was still injured. The plaintiff’s attorney objected to the question as hearsay. Following the trial, a jury found in favor of the defendant, finding that the plaintiff did not suffer any permanent injury. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that the question the defendant’s attorney asked the plaintiff regarding her boyfriend was so prejudicial it necessitated a new trial. The trial court agreed, granting the motion. The defendant appealed.

Standard for Granting a New Trial

On appeal, the court of appeals stated that in granting a new trial based on attorney misconduct, the trial court is required to engage in a four-part test. The appellate court held that the trial court’s failure to conduct this test was an abuse of discretion. Further, the court found that the requirements of the test were not met in this case, and therefore, a new trial should not have been granted. As such the appellate court reversed the trial court order and remanded the case for the entry of the jury’s verdict.

The four-part test, known as the Murphy test, requires a court to assess: whether there was improper conduct; whether the conduct was harmful; whether any harm caused by the conduct could be remedied; and whether the misconduct was so damaging to the fairness of the trial that the interest of the public in the justice system required a new trial. Here, the court found that while the defendant’s attorney’s question constituted misconduct, it was not harmful as there was ample evidence to support the jury’s verdict absent any prejudice caused by the question. Additionally, the court found that a proper instruction to the jury would have cured any potential harm caused by the question. Lastly, the court found that the question was not so offensive as to require a new trial so that the public would not lose confidence in the justice system.

Meet with a Skilled South Florida Car Accident Attorney Today

If you sustained harm due to a car accident, you should consult a skilled car accident attorney to discuss the facts of your case. The South Florida car accident attorneys of Donaldson & Weston can anticipate any obstacles to your recovery and will work diligently to advocate for your rights and seek compensation for your injuries. Contact us today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Reverses Order Granting a New Trial in a Car Accident Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2018

Florida Court of Appeals Quashes Substituted Service of Process as Improperly Obtained, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, December 4, 2018

Florida Court Upholds Arbitration Clause After Car Accident, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2018