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Maritime Law--Pretrial Stipulation is Trial Blueprint in Florida State Court

In Palm Beach Polo Holdings v. Broward Marine, 40 Fla. Law Weekly D1932 (Fla. 4th DCA Aug. 19, 2015), the issue of whether the underlying claim was barred by the statute of limitations was memorialized in the pretrial stipulation entered between the parties. By definition and policy, this should have been considered a matter officially at issue in dispute during the trial. However, the trial court concluded that because the relevant statute was not framed in the preliminary instructions to the jury and because the appellants did not argue it in their opening statement, the defense was not properly raised and was waived.

The Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals disagreed. It took the opportunity to remind judges and litigators that the document upon which all parties can always rely on is the Pretrial Stipulation. The appellate court observed that any previous disputes or contentious pretrial issues become mostly irrelevant once the parties prepare and stipulate to the final agreed upon "executive summary” as to what the impending trial will be about and the specific issues that remain on the table. As noted by the court, the Pretrial Stipulation is one of the most “coveted and effective pretrial devices” enjoyed by the trial court and all the parties. The court further noted how the Pretrial Stipulation is a “powerful blueprint” that fully enables a well-run and fair trial. It also stated that the Pretrial Stipulation prescribing issues on which the case is to be tried are binding upon the parties and the court and should be strictly enforced.

Everyone connected with the trial, from the witnesses to well-prepared and efficient lawyers, benefit from a mandated and duly enforced Pretrial Stipulation. The appellate court then rejected the argument that because the statute of limitations issue was not in the preliminary instructions to the jury or referenced in the opening statement, that it was of no consequence.
While a seemingly simple decision, Palm Beach  Polo Holdings is an important one. In this day and age of "gotcha" litigation, parties are increasingly looking for ways to suggest that the other side waived arguments before the court. The Pretrial Stipulation is the document that sets the stage on the issues to be litigated before the trial court.
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