On October 16, 2013, the Supreme Court of Nevada (“Nevada Supreme Court”) heard oral arguments in an appeal of a medical malpractice verdict in favor of the defendant where one of the jurors had previously exchanged business referrals with the husband of the defendant’s paralegal. The plaintiffs were unable to strike the juror for cause because they had exhausted all of their peremptory challenges. It was only after the plaintiffs had passed the juror for cause that the defendant advised the judge about the potential bias of the juror.
The medical malpractice plaintiffs are the parents of a child who suffered a catastrophic brain damage allegedly as a result of complications arising out of their child’s chickenpox treatment provided by the defendant hospital. During the jury selection process, the trial judge refused to strike the juror despite the plaintiffs’ request that the juror not be seated on the jury; the trial judge determined that the juror could render a fair and impartial verdict. After the jury found in favor of the medical malpractice defendant, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The plaintiffs then filed their appeal.
The issues before the Nevada Supreme Court include: (1) Did the district court err in denying the plaintiffs’ motion for new trial because the jury selection process unreasonably restricted their ability to obtain an impartial jury? (2) Should the juror have been excused for cause? (3) Did the juror engage in misconduct?
Source Gyger vs. Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, LLC, Docket No. 58972.
Peremptory Challenges vs. Challenges For Cause
The parties in a jury trial have a right to have a specified number of jurors precluded from sitting on a jury during the jury selection process without stating a reason, which is known as peremptory challenges. The parties also have a right to challenge a juror’s selection “for cause,” such as a juror’s admitted bias, a juror’s relationship with one of the parties or their attorney, a juror’s personal knowledge about the facts of the case, or another basis for believing that a potential juror may not be able to be fair and impartial. The number of peremptory challenges for each side is determined by state law and may be based on the number of parties to the case and whether it is a civil or criminal trial.
The judge acts as the “gatekeeper” in deciding whether a juror challenged for cause will be precluded from sitting on the jury. The judge typically requests the challenged juror to come to the bench for a private conference attended by the parties’ attorneys during which the judge will ask the juror questions intended to determine if the juror can be fair and impartial in deciding the case. Sometimes the judge will permit the parties’ attorneys to ask follow up questions of the juror, either directly or through the judge. The judge will then hear arguments from the attorneys outside of the presence of the juror why the juror should or should not be struck from jury service for cause, after which the judge will make the final determination if the challenge for cause will stand. A party who perceives that the judge made the wrong decision regarding a challenge for cause will be permitted to state an exception on the record regarding the judge’s ruling. The procedures for challenging for cause and determining the challenge may differ based on state laws and court-specific rules.
If you or someone you know may have suffered injuries or other harms as result of Nevada medical malpractice or medical malpractice in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a Nevada medical malpractice attorney (or a medical malpractice attorney in your state) who may investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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