Indiana Appellate Court Finds No Error In Refusing To Strike For Cause Five Medical Malpractice Jurors Who Preferred A Higher Standard Of Proof

The Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on August 7, 2019, “Based on the record before us, we find that the trial court did not act illogically or arbitrarily when it denied [the plaintiff’s] for-cause challenges to the five individuals who initially indicated they would want or prefer to see a higher burden of proof than the required “greater weight of the evidence” standard applicable in medical malpractice cases.”

The Underlying Facts

In April 2013, the Indiana medical malpractice plaintiff filed a Proposed Complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance alleging that the defendant anesthesiologist negligently administered general anesthesia during a cardiac ablation procedure and that, as a result, the plaintiff suffered a stroke and vision loss. A Medical Review Panel reviewed the submissions and decided that the defendant met the standard of care in treating the plaintiff. In January 2016, the plaintiff filed an Indiana medical malpractice complaint in state court, and the case proceeded to a nine-day jury trial in September 2018.

During jury selection, the potential jurors took an oath, as required by Ind. Jury Rule 13, to honestly answer each question asked by the court or counsel during jury selection. In response to the plaintiff’s lawyer’s questioning, one prospective juror liked the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Another did not think 51-49 “is very fair,” felt the case needed to be “very strong,” and stated she would want the winner to be just under beyond a reasonable doubt or around 90%. A third prospective juror also felt that the evidence needed to be strong and agreed with the plaintiff’s attorney when he asked if she would require the plaintiff to prove his case by 90-95% instead of “51 to 49.” A fourth prospective juror felt that the greater weight needed to be more than 51% and that the percentage should be 75%. Another felt 60% was reasonable. And another prospective juror felt the “51-49” characterization was arbitrary and that he could not award damages for a case that is more likely true than untrue. Another prospective juror said that he would want the plaintiff to prove his case by “90-95,” as the greater weight of the evidence would not be enough proof to satisfy him. Another did not feel that “51-49” would be enough for her to find in favor of the plaintiff and felt she would need “[p]robably 75 or over.” And yet another said he would want “80-90% at least.” Another prospective juror said he would need the plaintiff to prove his case “100%.”

The trial judge subsequently addressed the prospective jurors: “So [the plaintiff’s counsel] was asking you questions regarding burden of proof and your personal feelings on burden of proof and there were percentages thrown out. Does everyone remember that line of questioning? The court’s question is this: I’m going to instruct you as to what the burden of proof is. So it is the judge instructing you on the law. Can you all follow my instructions? Will you put aside your personal beliefs as to burden of proof and follow the law as I instruct? Can everyone do that? Can anyone not do that?”

Based on the answers each had given regarding burden of proof, and what they felt they would need to find in order to find in the plaintiff’s favor, the plaintiff’s lawyer challenged for cause nine of the initial fourteen prospective jurors. The trial court then individually asked each one of the nine challenged jurors whether they would be able to put aside their personal beliefs and follow the instructions as given by the trial court, including but not limited to those with respect to the burden of proof. Six answered in the affirmative and the trial court denied the plaintiff’s for-cause challenges to those prospective jurors. Based on answers given by three other prospective jurors, the trial court granted the plaintiff’s request and struck those three for cause.

The Indiana medical malpractice jury subsequently found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

Indiana Appellate Court Decision

The Indiana Appellate Court stated, “[The plaintiff] made twelve for-cause challenges, of which the trial court granted four and denied eight. Six of those eight denials are at issue in this appeal. The right to a fair trial before an impartial jury is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system … A constitutionally impartial juror is one who is able and willing to lay aside his or her prior knowledge and opinions, follow the law as instructed by the trial judge, and render a verdict based solely on the evidence presented in court … For-cause challenges … are available to exclude any prospective juror whose “views would ‘prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.’” … There are no limits on the number of for-cause challenges, but each must be supported by specified reasons that demonstrate that, as a matter of law, the venire member is not qualified to serve.”

The Indiana Appellate Court stated, “The trial court thereafter individually asked each of those five (as well as others) whether he or she could set aside personal feelings or beliefs and follow the instructions and law that the court would give, including with regard to burden of proof. Each of the five jurors at issue here responded in the affirmative … a trial court has broad discretion to rehabilitate jurors and deny for-cause challenges … The trial court devoted a generous amount of time to jury selection in order to make sure each person, including those challenged for cause, was competent to sit on the jury. We find no abuse of the court’s substantial discretion and conclude that the trial court did not act illogically or arbitrarily when it denied the six for-cause challenges at issue.”

Source Wallick v. Inman, Opinion 18A-CT-2519.

If you or a loved one have suffered serious harm as a result of medical negligence in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Indiana medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice lawyers in your U.S. state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 30th, 2019 at 5:21 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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