In a medical malpractice action based on negligence, where a juror failed to initially disclose a potential bias but later admitted the possibility that one existed, the Court of Appeals held that, if a hearing is not granted at trial to investigate the juror’s prejudice, a new trial must ensue.
In Thompson v. Gerowitz, No. 49A05-1005-CT-296, a doctor was sued for the wrongful death of a patient after the doctor’s performance of a stem cell procedure. During voir dire, the process by which prospective jurors are questioned, attorneys for the doctor asked the pool of jurors if any among them held biases against medical professionals that would affect their decision-making processes. No juror spoke up during voir dire, but after voir dire had concluded and the trial court had announced the selected jury, a juror offered up the information that she was a widow and had tried to “go after the doctor for negligence.” The trial judge, after discussing this statement with the attorneys, referenced presiding over more than 250 jury trials and said “I think the jury is a good one, and I am sure it will be just fine for both sides . . . .” After trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff and the doctor appealed.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the juror’s statement “was specific, substantial evidence showing a juror was possibly biased,” and continued, “[a]t that point, it was incumbent upon the trial court to conduct a hearing, out of the presence of the remainder of the jury” to investigate further if the juror’s statement indicated bias and if such a hearing would itself create a bias in the juror. The trial court should have then allowed the doctor’s attorneys to challenge the juror for cause and declare a mistrial if bias was found. Because the trial court judge allowed the case to continue uninterrupted, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for a new trial.