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Florida Fifth DCA rules that trial judge improperly relied upon informal, post-discharge, ex parte communications with jurors as basis for modifying jury verdict

On May 3, 2019, in Orange Springs Specialty Water and Beverage Company v. Delk, No. 5D18-2014, the Florida Fifth DCA reversed a final judgment by a trial court in a breach of contract case.  The trial court had modified the monetary basis of the jury’s verdict in the case after speaking to jurors ex parte after they were discharged and discovering there was confusion over the calculation of the net judgment for the plaintiff.  On appeal, the Fifth DCA noted that a trial court’s decision to correct a verdict so that it conforms with the apparent intent of the jury is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, Cory v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 257 So. 2d 36, 41 (Fla. 1971) and where the jury’s intent is clear, a trial court has the discretion to amend the verdict to reflect the jury’s intent. See Balsera v. A.B.D.M. & P. Corp., 511 So. 2d 679, 681 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987).  However, the Fifth DCA concluded that post-discharge conferences may not be used to delve into the factual basis for the jury’s decision or to cause the jury to alter its verdict, citing Fitzell v. Rama Indus., Inc., 416 So. 2d 1246, 1247 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982) and Kirkland v. Robbins, 385 So. 2d 694, 696 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980).

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