State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Lawrence, 65 So. 3d 52 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011).
In a trial for uninsured motorist benefits, three prospective jurors revealed that they had made claims against the insurance carrier. Two of the three prospective jurors were excused, and the third was selected as an alternate after the carrier had exhausted its peremptory strikes. No other prospective jurors responded to questions regarding claims for uninsured motorist benefits. After the jury returned a verdict for the policyholders, the carrier conducted an ISO claims database record search on all the jurors and found that three jurors (who had remained silent during jury selection) had made multiple claims under their respective automobile policies. The carrier moved for a new trial or, in the alternative, a motion to interview these three jurors. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing and without providing any explanation and entered judgment for the policyholders. The carrier appealed.
The carrier argued that the ISO reports satisfied the requirements for obtaining a new trial and, at a minimum, contained enough information to require juror interviews. A new trial is necessary only if the facts show that: (1) the undisclosed information was material and relevant to jury service; (2) the juror concealed the information; and (3) the concealment was not due to the moving party’s lack of diligence. However, a party may obtain a juror interview if the party demonstrates reasonable grounds to believe that nondisclosure of material and relevant information took place. The Second District Court of Appeal concluded that it was not empowered to make the three factual findings necessary to support a new trial. But the Second District agreed with the carrier that the ISO reports were sufficient to provide reasonable grounds to support juror interviews. Thus, the appellate court reversed and remanded for the trial court to conduct juror interviews and determine whether the carrier was entitled to a new trial
Appellate Counsel: Anthony J. Russo and Carol M. Rooney of Butler Pappas Weihmuller Katz Craig, LLP, Tampa; and J. Emory Wood of J. Emory Wood, P.A., St. Petersburg, for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance