Florida Supreme Court Ruling

By Edward Guedes

On November 13, the Florida Supreme Court in Special v. West Boca Medical Center announced a new harmless error rule applicable in all civil cases.  The Court concluded that “the test for harmless error requires the beneficiary of the error to prove that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict. Alternatively stated, the beneficiary of the error must prove that there is no reasonable possibility that the error complained of contributed to the verdict.”  The concept of harmless error has been part of Florida jurisprudence for decades, and in the criminal context, has been fairly well defined.  However, in civil cases, application of the doctrine has varied dramatically from case to case.  Predicting which errors might be harmless was often difficult to determine.

The Court’s ruling effectively makes it considerably more difficult for a litigant to claim that an error committed in the trial court was harmless.  Henceforth, the burden will rest on the party who benefitted from the alleged error to “prove” that there is no “reasonable possibility” that the error affected the verdict.  This new standard will dramatically shift the perspective of litigants who have obtained a favorable verdict, because they will not be called upon to consider whether any error committed by the trial court might have contributed to the verdict.  Litigants challenging an adverse verdict will now have greater leverage to negotiate a settlement by threatening that almost any error committed might undo the verdict on appeal.

Edward Guedes, partner at Weiss Serota, is the chair of the Appellate Practice Group. He is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in the field of Appellate Practice and a former finalist nominee to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. 

Categories: Appellate Law & Practice
Tags: Edward G. Guedes