Jury Verdict Reversed When Juror Should Have Been Disqualified for Bias

In this medical malpractice case, an appeal was taken by the plaintiff after a jury verdict was entered in favor of the defendant, Mercy Hospitals East, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion. The claim was made that the court chose not to strike for cause a venireperson after she expressed during voir dire a disqualifying bias in favor of Mercy. She stated that she would “start off slightly in favor” of Mercy in this case because her sister was a registered nurse at another Mercy facility.

Since this venireperson served on the jury in this case, the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial because the appeals panel found that the venireperson’s stated bias disqualified her from jury service on this case and she was not subsequently rehabilitated.

The original lawsuit stemmed from allegations that the hospital providers were negligent in connection with the Cesarean-section delivery of Thaddeus Thomas, resulting in brain damage to the newborn. The case proceeded to trial on March 16, 2015 and a jury returned a verdict for Mercy Hospital on March 26, 2015. The only issue on appeal was asserted that the trial court committed reversible error when it denied the plaintiffs’ motion to strike the venireperson for cause, who was later seated as a juror and took part in the verdict in this case.

The Missouri Appellate Court panel stated, “We reversed the trial court’s ruling on a challenge for cause if it is clearly against the evidence and it is a clear abuse of discretion.” See Joy v. Morrison, 254 S.W.3d 885, 888 (Mo. Banc 2008). And where a venireperson or juror clearly demonstrates a possible bias and is not thereafter rehabilitated by counsel, the trial court’s failure to strike the venireperson or juror undercuts any basis for the court’s exercise of discretion and constitutes reversible error. Hudson v. Behring, 261 S.W.3d 621, 624 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008) (holding that where a juror clearly indicated a possible bias, the trial court unquestionably abused its discretion by failing to excuse the juror).

The court went on to state that litigants are entitled to unbiased jurors whose experiences will not prejudice the resolution of the case. It is essential that a competent juror be in a position to enter a jury box disinterested and with an open mind, free from bias or prejudice.

In this case, Mercy’s counsel did not rehabilitate the venireperson. The trial judge should have struck the venireperson for clearly indicating a possible bias, otherwise the venireperson would be permitted to be the judge of her own qualifications. Because the court did not do so, the appeals panel found that it committed reversible error.

Thomas v. Mercy Hospitals East (Mo. Appellate Court).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling birth injury cases, traumatic brain injury cases, medical malpractice cases, nursing home abuse cases, wrongful death cases, hospital negligence cases and physician negligence cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Palos Heights, Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn, Berwyn, Forest Park, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Crestwood, Oak Forest, Evergreen Park, Chicago (Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town, Goose Island, Wicker Park, Lincoln Square, Burnside, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, East Side, Lake Calumet, Pullman), Oak Lawn and Justice, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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