In its opinion dated October 4, 2019, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) reversed the defense verdict reached by the jury in an Indiana medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit, stating, “We have little trouble concluding that a stated refusal to participate in a determination of non-economic damages amounts to bias or prejudice against a plaintiff seeking such damages … we conclude that [the juror’s] unequivocal statement that he could not render a verdict on damages in this lawsuit nonetheless amounts to bias or prejudice against her as a party.”
The Underlying Facts
The personal representative of an estate filed an Indiana medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant physician. During voir dire, one of the veniremen indicated that he would be unable to sit on a jury asked to determine damages for non-economic loss, which the plaintiff was seeking. When the trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion to strike the venireman for cause, she used one of her peremptory challenges to remove him, a challenge she later could not use to remove another objectionable juror. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant, and the trial court entered judgment in his favor.
On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her for-cause challenge to the juror, arguing that the record established that the juror was impermissibly biased or prejudiced against her and that she was prejudiced because she could not use her peremptory challenges on another juror, having used it on the first juror.
Indiana Appellate Court Opinion
The Indiana Appellate Court stated that although the juror certainly expressed no bias or prejudice against the plaintiff in particular, his statements would apply to any plaintiff seeking damages for non-economic loss in a lawsuit, a class to which the plaintiff clearly belonged. “Put another way, even though [the juror’s] bias or prejudice seems to be against the award of a particular type of damages in a lawsuit, his refusal to consider such damages harms a party seeking them, like [the plaintiff]. Even though there is no indication that [the juror] had any particular issue with [the plaintiff] personally, we conclude that [the juror’s] unequivocal statement that he could not render a verdict on damages in this lawsuit nonetheless amounts to bias or prejudice against her as a party.”
The Indiana Appellate Court further stated: “Because [the plaintiff] was forced to accept the objectionable Juror #3, she has established that the trial court’s erroneous denial of her motion to strike [the first juror] for cause was reversible error … Because [the plaintiff] has established that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to strike [the first juror] for cause and she has demonstrated prejudice … we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new trial.”
Source Clark v. Mattar, Opinion 19A-CT-380.
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