Rivas v. Sandoval

Decision Date05 May 2021
Docket NumberNo. 3D19-2402,3D19-2402
Citation319 So.3d 744
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals
Parties Alejandra RIVAS, Appellant, v. Alicia SANDOVAL, Appellee.

Philip D. Parrish, P.A., and Philip D. Parrish ; The Gutierrez Firm, and Jorge P. Gutierrez, Jr. ; Nuñez Law, PL, and Bobby Nuñez, for appellant.

Wicker Smith O'Hara McCoy & Ford, P.A., and Alyssa M. Reiter (Fort Lauderdale), for appellee.

Before LOGUE, HENDON, and GORDO, JJ.

LOGUE, J.

Alejandra Rivas appeals from a final judgment entered in favor of Alicia Sandoval in this personal injury case. Rivas asserts the trial court erred by denying her mid-trial motion for mistrial and her motion for new trial following a defense verdict. We find that the trial court erred in not excluding a properly challenged venireperson. Because this error forced Rivas to use a peremptory challenge against this venireperson and the trial court later denied Rivas’ request for an additional peremptory challenge against a prospective juror over whom she expressed concern, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

Facts and Procedural History

Rivas was travelling south on US-1 in South Miami when she turned left and was struck by Sandoval. After the collision, Rivas received emergency medical attention for shattered glass in her eyes, lacerations to her legs, and a contusion to her knee. After being discharged, she experienced neck and back pain, sought medical attention, and was diagnosed with injuries to her neck and back.

Rivas sued Sandoval and the case proceeded to trial. When the venire was asked whether any member had a personal or indirect experience being involved in a car accident, juror number five responded affirmatively. Juror five explained that his son had been in a similar collision with his car and both had been sued. He explained that the plaintiff in his son's case was never taken to the hospital for neck and back injuries, and that based on this he did not believe the plaintiff was sufficiently injured to receive his $100,000 insurance policy limits. The juror further explained that he was threatened by a law firm claiming it would put a lien on his house if he refused the policy limits on his insurance.

Rivas’ counsel asked the juror if the instant case was one "where you can't be fair and impartial and look at both cases equally using the analogy fairly and equally at the beginning, right?" The juror responded, "Yes." Sandoval's counsel further questioned the juror, "Are you open-minded in terms of this case ..." The juror responded, "Yes. Like I mention, every case is different so."

At the conclusion of voir dire, Rivas moved to exclude juror five for cause "because he had been a defendant, because he had issues with the insurance company, he was sympathizing with the defendant. He said that as a defendant he was treated unfairly." The trial court denied the motion to strike. Rivas initially accepted juror five but later used a peremptory challenge against the juror "based upon the denial of the motion for cause." Later, and after Rivas had exhausted all her peremptory challenges, Rivas was asked to accept juror fifteen, who had previously worked for several insurance companies. Rivas’ counsel responded saying, "I would ask for an additional peremptory challenge based upon the fact that the court denied the cause challenges on [Jurors] Number Three and Five, and I would ask the court for an additional peremptory." The trial court denied the request for an additional peremptory. Rivas’ counsel responded, "Just note my objection then, Your Honor, that I would have used one of the peremptory challenges had the court granted one of the prior cause challenges under [Jurors] Three and Five." Rivas tendered the jury, including juror fifteen, but maintained her previous objections. At the conclusion of trial, the jury returned a verdict for Sandoval.

Analysis

We review a trial court's decision to deny a challenge for cause to a potential juror for an abuse of discretion. McKay v. State, 61 So. 3d 1178, 1180 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011). "The test for determining juror competency is whether the juror can lay aside any bias or prejudice and render a verdict solely on the evidence presented and the instructions on the law given by the court." Busby v. State, 894 So. 2d 88, 95 (Fla. 2004). While the trial court has significant discretion in determining a juror's competency, "[a] juror must be excused for cause if any reasonable doubt exists as to whether the juror possesses an impartial state of mind." Kopsho v. State, 959 So. 2d 168, 170 (Fla. 2007).

Juror five's answers to questions from Rivas’ counsel evinced a bias which called into question his ability to "render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence submitted and the law announced at the trial."1

Matarranz v. State, 133 So. 3d 473, 484 (Fla. 2013) (citations omitted). An evaluation of a juror's ability to render a verdict based solely on the evidence and law must take into account "all of the questions...

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2 cases
  • Wright v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 1 décembre 2021
    ...review a trial court's decision to deny a challenge for cause to a potential juror for an abuse of discretion." Rivas v. Sandoval, 319 So. 3d 744, 746 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021). "The test for determining juror competency is whether the juror can lay aside any bias or prejudice and render a verdict......
  • Cent. Concrete Supermix, Inc. v. Cancio
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 5 mai 2021

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