Litigation trends and technological advances incited changes to Florida’s Standard Jury Instructions. Florida trial courts utilize Standard Jury Instructions, which are approved by the Florida Supreme Court, to instruct juries in civil litigation matters. The Standard Jury Instructions were initially created for negligence-type matters in the late sixties, and include procedural, evidentiary, and substantive instructions. Directives relating to a juror’s use of electronic devices (e.g., cameras, cell phones, laptops) to discuss or research information about the trial are also included. Because requesting modified instructions or improperly instructing the jury with non-standard instructions can create appellate error issues, Florida judges and attorneys routinely use the standard jury instructions.
In 2006, over thirty years after the negligence-type Standard Jury Instructions were initially implemented, the Supreme Court of Florida established a committee to create proposed instructions for use in contract and business litigation matters. The committee’s proposed instructions were approved last summer. As such, jurors are now routinely instructed on uniform standards of law associated with contract and business disputes. Consequently, business litigants are benefitting from the application of these instructions from the onset of a dispute (when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a claim in light of the anticipated application of the instructions) to its final resolution at trial (when the instructions are provided).
Amendments to the Standard Jury Instructions will also be forthcoming to address two recent changes to Florida’s procedural and judicial rules, both of which limit juror’s substantive communications outside of the jury panel.
A new Florida Rule of Judicial Administration, Rule 2.451, prohibits jurors from using electronic devices to photograph/record, or communicate about, court proceedings, transmit or access text/data during court proceedings, or transmit, research or access information about the trial. It also provides Judges with authority to remove electronic devices from jurors before jury deliberations begin, and possibly during entire periods of sequestration. Additionally, an amendment to Rule 1.431 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure requires all communication between the jury and the Court/courtroom personnel, but for innocuous communications relating to juror comfort and safety, to be part of the record. While similar directives were previously in place, these changes expand a Court’s authority to enforce the old directives and limits a juror’s access to, and use of, his or her personal electronic devices. They also aim to keep a juror’s individual assessment of a case within the jury box.
In sum, these recent amendments demonstrate Florida’s commitment to meeting the needs of litigation trends and evolving technology in the Courtroom. Such advancements provide our litigants with the security that our jurors will be well instructed on the standards of applicable business and contract law and individually apply those standards to the evidence presented at trial.