Warger v. Shauers
The Plaintiff in this case was injured in a motorcycle accident. As happens at the beginning of every case, the attorneys had a chance to ask the prospective jurors questions to see if they had any bias that would prevent them from deciding the case fairly. The jury was chosen from people who gave the appearance that they could be fair in making their decisions.
Following the verdict, a jury approached the Plaintiff’s attorney and told him that one of the jurors had refused to rule based on the evidence in the case. In the jury room, a juror revealed that her daughter had killed a person in an accident and that a personal injury case against her would have ruined her life. The Plaintiff’s attorney obtained an affidavit from the jury who heard this in the jury room and presented it to the Court in order to obtain a new trial. The trial judge followed the Federal Rule that statements of jurors cannot be used to challenge a jury verdict. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in a December 8, 2014 9-0 unanimous opinion.
The logic of the rule is easy to understand. A jury consists of seven jurors in a civil case or 12 in a criminal case. If the Court held a hearing every time one juror challenged the way another juror deliberated, many cases would go on for trial after trial. However, that does not ease the pain for the Plaintiff who did not get a fair trial because a juror was not honest with the Court about her biases and the impact they would have on her ability to hear the case.
This case reminds us all how important it is for a trial attorney to find out as much as he can about the prospective jurors and to take the time and make the personal connection necessary to effectively question the jurors before they are chosen to hear the case. It is also a reminder than no one can predict with certainty how a jury will respond to a case.