The South Carolina Court of Appeals struck down a plaintiff’s effort to have her personal injury claim retried on grounds of juror misconduct.
In Lynch v. Carolina Self Storage Centers, Inc., the appellate court found there simply wasn’t enough evidence of misconduct to justify a new trial, as none of the alleged bias involved information received from outside sources.
Rock Hill personal injury lawyers know that appellate courts will generally seek to avoid overturning a jury verdict altogether when they can, which is why it’s so important to make sure your case is strong before your case is heard.
When an issue of negligence is before the court, what needs to be proven is not only did the defendant owe a duty to the plaintiff that was breached, but further that the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. It’s also important to mitigate in any way possible the assertion that the plaintiff shared a degree of the fault.
Here, while the jury did award damages to the plaintiff, it also found that the defendant’s actions were not the proximate cause of all of her extensive injuries, and further that she shared 50 percent of the fault. Her award was reduced accordingly.
Court records indicate the claim stems from an injury the plaintiff sustained while loading furniture out of a storage unit, owned by the defendant, and into a vehicle. The plaintiff contends that she had propped a hinged exterior door to the unit open by placing a small table against the door. She loaded the furniture into her vehicle and then picked up the table as she turned to walk out. As the door quickly closed, she would later say she “instinctively” thrust her foot back to catch it. Because of the height between the door and the ground and the fact that the door was lined with sharp metal at the bottom, when the door caught her heel, she suffered a deep cut that went all the way to her Achilles tendon.
Several days after, she fell while climbing a flight of stairs, resulting in the tendon rupturing. This required surgery. Subsequently, the wound became infected by a bacterial growth festering in her wet cast. As a result, she was forced to undergo five separate surgeries to treat the wound with skin grafts.
At trial, she maintained that the storage company was liable for her injuries because it was negligent in failing to maintain the door in what would be considered a reasonably safe condition. She alleged the company also failed to warn her of this dangerous condition.
However, the defense countered that she failed to prove that most of her medical expenses were proximately caused by its negligence (which it disputed anyway). The storage company argued the plaintiff had flouted her doctor’s advice both by not staying off her foot after the initial injury and then failing to keep the cast dry, as she’d been instructed.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for nearly $250,000, which was the full amount of her medical expenses. However, the jury also found her to be 50 percent at-fault, and under South Carolina’s law of comparative fault, damages were reduced in proportion to her fault.
Both parties moved for a new trial. The plaintiff argued the jury failed to appropriately consider non-economic damages, while the defense argued it owed no duty to the plaintiff and that her own negligence exceeded the company’s as a matter of law.
Both motions were denied by the trial court.
This is where the allegations of juror misconduct arose. The jury foreperson later informed the judge that several of the jurors had expressed bias against the plaintiff because she “could afford to live beside a doctor” and because she “had a large bank account.” One juror reportedly indicated during deliberations that she couldn’t stand the plaintiff’s attorney, and vowed she would not deliver a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
A request for a new trial was denied on the basis that the jury foreperson’s statements were inadmissible under Rule 606(b). This rule holds that it’s not misconduct if jurors discuss matters not of record, but only whether they discuss specific extra-record facts relating to the case. That was not the issue here.
The plaintiff will still be walking away with $125,000 toward her medical expenses.
Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices in Rock Hill by calling 800-887-1965.
Lynch v. Carolina Self Storage Centers, Inc., May 26, 2014, South Carolina Court of Appeals
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Mammarella v. Evantash – Diagnostic Error Top Cause of Medical Lawsuits, May 28, 2014, Rock Hill Personal Injury Lawyer Blog