A woman underwent a cesarean section delivery. The infant was injured in the course of the procedure. The infant sustained brain damage.
The infant’s parents individually and on his behalf sued the hospital and its staff for medical malpractice.
During voir dire, the parents’ counsel informed the potential jurors that the case involved the hospital and its staff and asked the potential jurors if any of them felt that they might be more in favor of one party or the other. One prospective juror indicated that the juror’s sister was a registered nurse (RN) who had worked in the hospital’s burn unit for 25 years. The prospective juror said this might result in a slight bias in favor of the hospital and its staff. Upon further questioning by the parents’ counsel, the prospective juror agreed to follow an instruction given by the judge regardless of any relationship to the hospital or its staff. Upon questioning by the hospital’s counsel, the prospective juror advised that any decisions about the case would be based only on the evidence presented in court and the judge’s instructions, rather than information provided by the prospective juror’s sister.
The parents moved to strike the prospective juror for cause. The Franklin County Circuit Court overruled the motion to strike. The prospective juror was seated as a juror and took part in the verdict.
The case proceeded to trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the hospital and staff. The trial court entered judgment on a jury verdict in favor of the hospital and staff. The Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri.
The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that a prospective juror was not disqualified from serving as a juror.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the prospective juror was not disqualified from serving as a juror. The court noted that the prospective juror did not claim to have knowledge concerning the matter or any material fact in controversy from which to form an opinion requiring disqualification. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the prospective juror had been rehabilitated when the entire voir dire was considered including the prospective juror’s later statement regarding the juror’s ability to follow the trial court’s instructions, and, thus, was not disqualified from serving as juror. The court found that the questions asked by counsel of both the parents and the hospital elicited answers from the prospective juror that showed an ability to be impartial. The court noted that the prospective juror specifically stated that the juror would not give the hospital and its staff more credibility than the parents. The prospective juror also explained that the slight bias arose not out of personal experience but rather on general opinions expressed by the prospective juror’s sister based on the sister’s experience as a nurse in the burn unit. The court held that it was not improper for the trial court to rely on the prospective juror’s assessment of the juror’s own ability to be impartial. The court found that the trial court independently considered the entire voir dire examination, determined the prospective juror’s unequivocal testimony indicated the prospective juror had successfully been rehabilitated, and found the prospective juror was qualified to serve on the jury.
The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment on a jury verdict in favor of the hospital and staff.
See: Thomas v. Mercy Hospitals East Communities, 2017 WL 3259774 (Mo., August 1, 2017) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives Report: Mothers, Infants, and Obstetrical Injuries: Labor and Delivery Liability