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.
According to court records, plaintiff was visiting the medical center for a doctor’s appointment following her knee surgery. She fell in the bathroom. She indicated that as she was getting up from the toilet, the lights suddenly turned off and she felt her feet fall out from underneath her. She hit her head, her back and her arm. A nurse discovered her in the bathroom and took her to an emergency room. She sustained a laceration in the fall that soon after became infected, requiring numerous surgical procedures to treat.
Plaintiff sued the medical center, alleging the soap dispenser in the bathroom was leaky, causing soap to drip out onto the floor, creating a dangerous condition and causing her to fall. She testified she heard the nurse who took her to the emergency room say she suffered a slip-and-fall due to the soap on the floor. Plaintiff didn’t actually see what caused her to fall.
Defense repeatedly called into question plaintiff’s credibility at trial, arguing plaintiff probably fell due to her own knee problems or water on the floor.
Juror decided the case in favor of defendant, choosing not to award plaintiff anything.
After trial, plaintiff’s lawyer asked a few of the jurors why they reached the decision they did. One revealed he Googled the weather on the day of plaintiff’s fall and discovered the forecast had significant snow for the day. Plaintiff sought a new trial. The court held a hearing and nine of the jurors were called in to testify. The one who Googled the weather admitted to doing so. However, most of the others didn’t recall hearing anything about the weather in the course of their deliberations. The couple who did remember a comment on the weather said it wasn’t relevant in the course of their deliberations.
Based on this, trial court overruled the motion for a new trial, and the state supreme court affirmed. The court noted that while juror misconduct raises the presumption of prejudice, it still has to be proven in order for a new trial to be granted. In this case, it was not.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Smotherman v. Cass Regional Medical Center, Sept. 20, 2016, Supreme Court of Mississippi
More Blog Entries:
Crider v. DeSoto County – Discretionary Function Immunity in Trip-and-Fall Lawsuit, Aug. 23, 2016, Spartanburg Personal Injury Attorney Blog