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Married Venire Members - Challenge for Cause - Admission of Evidence - Harmless Error

Leftwich v. Brewster, [Ms. 1180796, Apr. 3, 2020] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2020). The Court (Mendheim, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Shaw, J., concurs in the result) affirms the Etowah Circuit Court’s denial of plaintiff Leftwich’s motion for new trial following a defense verdict on a claim of negligent home inspection.

After noting that § 12-16-150 does not list marriage to a fellow venire member as a ground of presumed bias, the Court also observed that “Leftwich did not ask the Battleses any direct questions pertaining to their relationship and how it might impact their decision-making in the case. ... Based on the lack of legal authority and evidentiary support for Leftwich’s claim of bias, we conclude that the trial court did not err in denying Leftwich’s motion to strike the married jurors for cause.” Ms. * 24.

While noting that in some circumstances repair costs can be relevant to determining damages for real property, Ms. *27, the Court rejecting Leftwich’s claim of error, explaining

[I]n Poffenbarger v. Merit Energy Co., 972 So. 2d 792, 801 (Ala. 2007), this Court held that “the appropriate measure of direct, compensatory damages to real property generally is the diminution in the value of that property, even when the cost to remediate the property exceeds the diminution in the value thereof.” Thus, Leftwich’s estimates of repairs that exceeded the value of the home could not have been considered by the jury.... In short, the trial court’s conclusion was the product of weighing what evidence was the most relevant and the least confusing to the jury. Given the deference we afford to a trial court’s judgments on the admission and exclusion of evidence, we cannot conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion in not allowing the evidence.

Ms. *27-28.

The Court also held that because the jury returned a general verdict “even if the trial court had erred in excluding Leftwich’s evidence of repair costs, we could not conclude that the ruling probably injuriously affected Leftwich’s substantial rights because the jury could have determined that Brewster did not breach a duty to Leftwich.” Ms. *29.

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