When your case goes to trial, you have several hurdles to clear. Sometimes, obtaining a jury verdict in your favor isn’t the last one. In the case of one trucker, he had to fight off a defense claim that juror misconduct should invalidate the outcome and trigger a new trial. The Second District Court of Appeal sided with the injured driver, concluding that, even if the juror engaged in misconduct, the defendant lacked the necessary proof of prejudice that the law required to overturn the verdict and the damages award.
The accident that led to this case was a collision involving two semi-trucks. The plaintiff sued the defendant for his injuries, accusing the defendant of negligence after the defendant’s semi rear-ended the plaintiff’s semi when both were traveling southbound on I-5 north of Los Angeles. The defendant admitted liability, but he argued that the injuries the plaintiff suffered were not of “the nature and extent” that the plaintiff asserted.
This meant that the trial centered solely on the amount of the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff, who allegedly experienced shoulder pain after the accident, consulted an orthopedic surgeon. That doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with a torn rotator cuff. Since the surgeon concluded that physical therapy was not helping the trucker with his limited range of motion, the doctor recommended surgery, which the trucker underwent. During the surgery, the doctor discovered that the plaintiff had significant inflammation but no rotator cuff tear, although he did observe “some labral tearing.”
The defendant retained a medical expert as well. This doctor testified that the only injury the plaintiff suffered as a result of the accident was a minor shoulder sprain (in the AC joint) and that most of his pain and range-of-motion limitations were due to shoulder impingement syndrome. The defense expert testified that, while surgery was a viable method for treating this syndrome, most doctors would treat such a patient with a regimen of cortisone injections first.
Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for $241,000. Given that the plaintiff had offered to settle the case for $200,000, this was an outcome that the plaintiff likely viewed as a successful one. After the jury entered its verdict, the trial judge allowed the opposing lawyers to talk to the jurors. The jury foreperson told the attorneys that he was a personal trainer and that, in his opinion, the plaintiff suffered a torn labrum, torn labrums were always related to a trauma (like a vehicle accident), and these injuries require surgery to address. The foreperson used his personal knowledge and experience as a trainer to draw this conclusion.
The displeased defendant moved for a new trial. He argued he was entitled to a new trial because the law prohibits jurors from using their “personal experience or expertise to dictate their opinions about the case,” and the foreperson had done so in this instance. The trial court disagreed and let the verdict stand.
The defendant appealed, but he still lost. Once the injured plaintiff in this case obtained his jury verdict, the defendant could not overturn that judgment on the ground of juror misconduct unless the defense showed several things. One of these essential elements is proof showing that the alleged misconduct prejudiced the defendant’s case. This was the factor that tripped up the defendant. The juror who engaged in the alleged misconduct concluded that the plaintiff suffered a major shoulder injury as a result of the trauma of the accident. There was evidence in the trial, including the testimony of the two expert doctors, to back up the conclusion that the plaintiff had suffered a significant shoulder injury, that the injury was a result of a trauma he suffered in the accident (as opposed to repetitive motion), and that the injury required surgery. Even though the juror appeared to have used his own experience to pinpoint the exact nature of (what he believed was) the plaintiff’s injury, that insertion of his personal knowledge was not prejudicial, given the evidence on the record in this case.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a vehicle accident, you need skilled counsel on your side. The knowledgeable San Mateo truck accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos have many years of experience representing injured people and helping them seek compensation for the harm they’ve suffered. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
California Appeals Court Says Uninsured Passenger Can Use Full Amount of Medical Bills to Prove ‘Reasonable Value’ of Care, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Nov. 3, 2016
Unfair Surprises at Trial and Your California Truck Accident Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Aug. 19, 2016