On March 10, 2020, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington Division Three (“Washington Appellate Court”) affirmed the trial court’s decision to allow a prospective juror to sit on a Washington medical malpractice jury in a birth injury medical malpractice case alleging that the defendant obstetrician was negligent in delivering a baby who suffered a brachial plexus injury, despite the prospective juror having had the defendant obstetrician deliver one of his children fourteen years earlier.
Washington Birth Injury Medical Malpractice Case
The defendant OB had delivered the plaintiffs’ baby during which the baby shifted in the birth canal and the defendant used the McRoberts’ position to deliver the child. The baby was born with a brachial plexus nerve injury that impacts the left arm. The Washington birth injury plaintiffs alleged that the injury resulted from an improper procedure during delivery.
The trial court declined to excuse for cause the juror with the prior relationship with the defendant OB, and the juror eventually served on the jury that returned a defense verdict in the Washington medical malpractice case. Others in the jury pool who had children delivered by the defendant OB were excluded for cause, including one whose child was delivered four years earlier and another who was receiving ongoing care from the defendant.
Washington Appellate Court Opinion
The Washington Appellate Court stated that the trial court possesses discretion when granting or denying a challenge to a juror for cause, and that an appellate court will reverse the trial court only for manifest abuse of discretion. A trial court abuses its discretion if its decision is manifestly unreasonable, or is exercised on untenable grounds, or for untenable reasons. The Washington Appellate Court stated that this standard of review recognizes that the trial court holds the best position to determine whether a juror can be fair and impartial because the trial court observes the juror’s demeanor and evaluates the juror’s answers.
In the case it was deciding, the Washington Appellate Court stated that Washington’s statutes do not imply bias from the existence of a doctor-patient relationship: a party must establish a juror’s actual bias. Actual bias is defined as the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the action, or to either party, which satisfies the court that the challenged person cannot try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the party challenging.
When a party challenges a prospective juror for cause, the trial court must determine whether the juror can set aside preconceived ideas and try the case fairly and impartially. A prior or ongoing business relationship involving a party and a juror may suggest actual bias, but the trial court must examine the relevant circumstances and the juror’s demeanor.
The Washington Appellate Court held in the case it was deciding: “The trial court judge allowed each party to question each juror about prior relationships with [the defendant] and the judge provided reasoned decisions on the record concerning each challenge for cause. The judge excused those who had recent or ongoing relationships with [the defendant] or expressed apparent favoritism to the doctor. The trial court found that juror 25 had a remote relationship with [the defendant] and could remain impartial. Those were tenable grounds for declining to excuse juror 25. There was no abuse of discretion.”
Source Richter v. Harrington, MD., No. 36259-1-III.
If you or a loved one have suffered serious harm as a result of a birth injury, such as a brachial plexus injury, in Washington State or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Washington State medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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