COURT REVERSED ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF A NEW TRIAL AFTER THE TRIAL JUDGE LIMITED VOIR DIRE TO ONE HOUR—THERE IS NO BRIGHT LINE RULE ABOUT LIMITING VOIR DIRE.
Tallahassee Housing Authority v. Prather, 45 Fla. L Weekly D2323 (Fla. 1st DCA October 13, 2020):
Plaintiff was injured in a slip and fall. The parties agreed to three hours of voir dire examination for each side in their pretrial stipulation.
At the beginning of jury selection, the trial judge advised the parties he was limiting voir dire to only one hour per side, noting that the case was not one needing “all day to pick a jury.” Plaintiff’s counsel objected, asked sixty-eight minutes worth of questions, and at the end of his questioning, did not ask for more time.
The jury reached a defense verdict. The plaintiff then moved for a new trial based upon the Fourth District’s decision in Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So.2d 123 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), which the trial court believed compelled the granting of a new trial.
In Carver, the court advised plaintiff’s counsel at the beginning of the jury selection that he would limit counsel’s questioning to a total of thirty minutes. Counsel initially objected that he needed more time to explore prospective juror’s feelings about personal injury lawsuits, and pointed out that the allotted time would only amount to 90 seconds per juror.
After several prospective jurors said they were nurses, counsel objected that he needed more time to conduct sufficient questioning and the court gave him forty-five more minutes.
The appellate court reversed finding the trial court abused its discretion in limiting voir dire because the time limit imposed was arbitrary, counsel only had two to three minutes per juror, and there was no showing that counsel’s questioning was repetitive or cumulative. Also, the court’s limitation deprived the attorney of a fair opportunity to identify prospective jurors for challenge.
In this case, the court distinguished Carver because while plaintiff’s counsel did initially object to the time limit, counsel did not repeatedly object as the attorney in Carver did. Instead, plaintiff’s counsel agreed to wrap up his questioning without asking for more time or explaining why more time was needed.
The First District stated that Carver does not create a bright-line rule about limiting voir dire. Instead, it enforces the general theory that control of voir dire is largely within the trial court’s discretion unless a party demonstrates an abuse of that discretion.
The court reversed the decision to grant a new trial based on the incorrect reading of Carver, and concluded that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate he was prejudiced by the voir dire time limit.