Juror misconduct is getting tougher to police in this age of advanced technology. Sequestration of jurors is not a logistical possibility in the vast majority of cases. That means our system relies on trust that jurors will only consider the facts presented to them in the case – facts that have been carefully vetted by a court of law in order to ensure fairness to both sides. But some jurors find it just too tempting when there may be unanswered questions and they have instant access to almost any bit of information that was ever publicly available about the case.
Experienced injury attorneys know that while not every instance of juror misconduct warrants a mistrial, we must be vigilant in identifying it and calling it out and, when necessary, asking for remedy to unfairness. In some cases, that does mean a new trial.
However, as the Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled in Smotherman v. Cass Regional Medical Center, every party is entitled to a trial that is fair, but not necessarily one that is perfect. This was a slip-and-fall lawsuit that was decided in favor of the defendant property owner. Plaintiff sought a new trial after it came to light that a juror was looking up weather report information on the day of the accident. Her case, the court conceded, was not perfect and the juror did commit misconduct. However, the supreme court sided with the trial court in determining a new trial wasn’t warranted because plaintiff did not suffer prejudice as a result of the juror’s misconduct. Continue reading