The Indiana Supreme Court held in its opinion dated July 9, 2020: “At issue in this case is whether a juror should have been struck for cause based on bias, necessitating a new trial where the juror stated he did not want to serve as a juror, had a favorable impression of doctors, stated repeatedly that he could not and would not be able to assess noneconomic damages and absolutely no rehabilitation with regard to the damages issue occurred. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we find that the juror should have been struck for cause and that there was prejudice because the party objecting to the juror was forced to exhaust her last peremptory challenge and accept an objectionable juror. Therefore, a new trial is appropriate.”
The Underlying Facts
Kandace Pyles died following complications as a result of her bariatric surgery. Her estate brought a medical negligence claim against various medical providers involved, including Dr. Mattar (only Dr. Mattar remained as a defendant when the case was tried).
The medical review panel issued a unanimous opinion concluding that Dr. Mattar failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care and that this conduct was a factor of the resultant damages. During the Indiana medical malpractice trial, issues arose with one of the prospective jurors, who indicated repeatedly that he did not want to serve as a juror and further, that he didn’t think he should have to or would be able to put a dollar amount to noneconomic damages.
The plaintiff moved to strike the juror for cause, but the trial court denied the motion, finding that the juror was not biased against any particular party, but rather that he was looking for a reason not to serve on the jury. The plaintiff preserved her objection for appeal and used her final peremptory challenge to remove the juror.
The Indiana medical malpractice jury determined that Dr. Mattar was not negligent, and the plaintiff appealed.
Indiana Supreme Court Opinion
The Indiana Supreme Court stated that at issue was whether the trial court acted illogically or arbitrarily in denying the plaintiff’s for-cause challenge to the juror. Jury Rule 17 provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he court shall sustain a challenge for cause if the prospective juror … is biased or prejudiced for or against a party to the case[.]” Ind. Jury Rule 17(a)(8). However, a prospective juror may be “rehabilitated” through questioning that elicits whether the juror could set aside personal biases, beliefs, and prejudices and follow instructions as given. Ind. Trial Rule 47(D).
The Indiana Supreme Court stated, “This particular case seems to fall somewhere outside of case law upholding use of peremptory strikes for reluctant jurors and cases where for-cause challenges were appropriate to strike those jurors with a specific bias. On the one hand, [the juror] did not state he had some specific reason to be biased against [the plaintiff] or for Dr. Mattar, and there’s no evidence that he concealed any information about his feelings that would bear on the case. On the other, he stated on his juror questionnaire that he did not want to serve and during voir dire, he said he would have trouble putting a dollar amount to noneconomic damages meaning that there’s a bias against the party seeking those damages—here, [the plaintiff]. Accordingly, we agree with our Court of Appeals that there is bias here. This is not to say that every unwilling or reluctant juror is biased as there are times these unwilling or reluctant jurors can be rehabilitated, but under these circumstances, [the juror] stated repeatedly and emphatically that he could not render a decision about noneconomic damages. Further, rehabilitation of the juror did not occur here. That is, [the juror] stated “I want no part of it” when asked about assigning an amount to noneconomic damages and further, “no, I can’t” when asked if he could sit on a jury tasked with rendering a verdict as to noneconomic damages … The trial court did not intervene. Perhaps with further questions by counsel or the court, [the juror] could have been rehabilitated, but he wasn’t.”
The Indiana Supreme Court continued: “[The juror] stated on the juror questionnaire that he did not want to serve. He made repeated, emphatic statements during voir dire about his inability and unwillingness to assess and award noneconomic damages for [the plaintiff]. There was no rehabilitation effort about damages. He expressed uncertainty about whether his positive feelings for doctors would make him biased. All these things together demonstrate a potential bias against [the plaintiff] necessitating [the juror] be struck for cause. The trial court’s failure to do so was illogical under these particular circumstances … Because [the plaintiff] was forced to exhaust her peremptory challenges and accept an objectionable juror, granting a new trial is mandated … one juror certainly could have caused the entire jury to come to a different outcome. We agree with [the plaintiff] that there is no way to speculate what impact a single different juror may have had here and there is no reason to do so … the very fact that an objectionable juror serves is how a party is prejudiced.”
Source Clark v. Mattar, Case No. 20S-CT-109.
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