ORANGE COUNTY — The Florida 5th District Court of Appeal has reversed and remanded a court's decision to deny a new trial to an Orlando resort after a juror's history came into question.
The Circuit Court for Orange County originally denied Westgate Palace LLC's request for a new trial, as well as the opportunity to interview the specific juror.
Kristen Parr stayed at the Westgate Palace in June 2012 for a conference, where she allegedly slipped and fell in a puddle as she was leaving the hotel. The injuries included a fractured kneecap, causing Parr to have surgery, which included knee replacement screws. As a result, Parr and her husband, Thomas Parr, filed a lawsuit against the resort alleging negligence and loss of consortium. A jury heard the case Feb. 29, 2016.
Prior to being selected, each juror completed a survey of questions. Two of the questions related to whether the juror or a family member had ever been part of a lawsuit or been “accused, a complainant, or a witness in a criminal case.”
The juror in question, No. 121, answered “no” to those questions. During questioning, some jurors were asked about their past with lawsuits, but this particular juror was not. She was the only juror who said she was happy to serve jury duty, according to court records.
She became part of the six-member jury that found Westgate 45 percent negligent and Parr 55 percent negligent for the case. Parr was awarded $396,725.62, including $50,000 for future pain and suffering.
After the trial, Westgate filed a motion to interview that juror again and requested a new trial. The hotel claimed there were possible discrepancies in her answers from the questionnaire and the interview. It found “an extensive legal history” for the juror, including 20 felony and misdemeanor charges for drug possession and theft offenses from 1977 through 1995 and a traffic violation in 1999. It also found that the juror had a tax warrant in Kansas from 2004, court records state. Seven of her charges resulted in convictions.
Westgate also alleged there were inconsistencies with how long the juror had been a resident of Orange County. The juror said she lived in the county for five years after relocating from Dallas, but Westgate found she lived in Orange County from 1977 to 1999 and returned in 2005 to file for bankruptcy.
The hotel attempted to link the juror's inconsistencies and alleged “false representation” of Parr's use of her cellphone at the time of the incident as part of its request for a new trial.
The trial court denied Westgate’s motion to interview juror 121 again and receive a new trial. The appeals court remanded the ruling.
"The trial court abused its discretion in denying Westgate’s motion to interview juror 121,” the appeals court wrote. It also dismissed the Parrs' statements that Westgate did not do its due diligence to get truthful answers to the questioners and accused Westgate of having questions that were too “imprecise” to get an actual response from the juror.
The appeals court ruled that Westgate should get a new trial and emphasized that its reversal was not “without prejudice” to the resort.