A recent verdict won by Ford Motor Co. should be thrown out because two jurors failed to disclose critical information about their backgrounds, a court document filed Monday alleges.
A motion for a new trial, filed by Clearwater resident Karen D'Amario, alleges that jurors Glennedda Leslie and Christine D. Warwick swore that neither they, nor members of their family, had ever been parties to a lawsuit.
In fact, the motion says, both women's husbands had been sued.
In addition, a Largo plumbing company partly owned by Leslie and her husband was sued in an auto accident case. The opposing lawyer in that 1990 suit was a law partner of Wil Florin, who represented D'Amario in the Ford trial.
"We have a right to six fair jurors," Florin said Monday. The Florida Supreme Court once ordered a new trial because a juror failed to disclose a divorce and a creditor lawsuit, he said. "What we have here is that we had actually sued this lady's company."
In an interview, Leslie denied that she deliberately withheld any information.
Yes, Florin's law partner, Thomas Roebig, filed an accident suit against McGill Plumbing seven years ago, she acknowledged. But she certainly didn't recognize Florin or the name of his firm, Florin, Roebig & Walker, when she landed on the Ford jury.
The plumbing company has been sued numerous times, she said. Its insurance company handles most of the details.
"There's no way I could have made that connection," she said. "If I had, I wouldn't have been a juror. I didn't want to be there. I would have said, "I'm out of here.'
Leslie said she did not mention the two lawsuits that listed her husband as a defendant because they both involved accidents when he was driving a company truck.
When jurors were asked about lawsuits, "I felt they meant personally sued," Leslie said. "I had put those accidents in my mind as McGill Plumbing being sued."
An affidavit Florin filed late Monday also says that the plumbing company owns 25 Ford vehicles and a Lincoln Town Car. Leslie did not mention that when jurors were asked about car ownership, Florin said.
"We were trying to strike loyal Ford owners" from the jury, he said. "Certainly, the extent of her ownership was not disclosed."
Leslie could not be reached later Monday to respond to that allegation.
The Ford suit, which went to the jury 10 days ago, alleged that a design defect and faulty part in a 1988 Escort caused a fire that horribly mutilated D'Amario's son, Clifford Harris.
After deliberating five hours, the jury ruled unanimously in Ford's favor.
The motion for a new trial also alleges that jury foreman Warwick failed to reveal that her husband was a party to litigation over real estate and had filed three worker's compensation claims.
Warwick said she and her husband, Richard, a Clearwater firefighter, said they never considered the workers' compensation claims as personal injury claims.
"We didn't have to go to court or anything," Richard Warwick said. "It was just part of the normal paperwork."
Monday's motion also says that Senior Judge Howard Rives made errors in the trial.
Rives let the jury consider the liability of the 15-year-old youth who drove the car. That youth, who had been drinking, died in the fire.
Ford expert Jack Ridenour, who testified that the Escort's design was safe, also helped design the fuel system on the Ford Pinto, which was roundly criticized in the 1970s as susceptible to crash fires.
Out of the jury's hearing, the witness testified that he still believes that the Pinto's design was safe. That statement would have undermined the witness' credibility, the motion said. But Rives ruled that any mention of the Pinto would prejudice the jury.
Ford lawyer Ronald Cabaniss said Rives' rulings were correct. Furthermore, he said, "I see no basis to suggest juror misconduct, either actually or legally."