Turner v. Stime
Another jury misconduct case! What’s the deal with these Eastern Washington jurors? Just follow the instructions!
The Turners were suing Dr. Stime and his clinic for medical malpractice. Mrs. Turner was diagnosed with terminal cancer when in fact she had pneumonia. The untreated pneumonia progressed to sepsis, which resulted in Mrs. Turner being in a coma and amputation of her left forefoot. Dr. Stime’s own witness testified that Dr. Stime violated the standard of care in several ways during two appointments. Despite this testimony, the jury returned a verdict favorable to Dr. Stime. How could that happen?
The Turners were represented at trial by Mark Kamitomo, who is of Japanese ancestry. Mr, Kamitomo was the only non-Caucasian involved in the trial. Race was a factor in this trial unfortunately.
Apparently some of the jurors were using racially inappropriate names when referring to Mr. Kamitomo. In addition, one juror also made a comment about the verdict being appropriate given that the date was December 7, the same date that Pearl Harbor was bombed. Based on a finding of derogatory comments and racial bias that affected the jurors’ objective analysis and thus the outcome of the verdict, the trial court granted the motion for a new trial. Dr. Stime appealed.
The right to a jury trial includes the right to an unbiased and unprejudiced jury. On a claim of jury misconduct, a trial court has significant discretion in investigating. However, Dr. Stime claimed that the applicable standard of review was de novo because the trial court’s decision was based on affidavits and not live testimony. Division III did not agree and held that the standard of review was abuse of discretion because the trial court’s findings were based on its presence during trial.
Under an abuse of discretion review, it must be determined whether the trial court abused its discretion by deciding that there was "sufficient misconduct to establish a ‘reasonable doubt’ that plaintiff was denied a fair trial.” There was no dispute about the names used for Mr. Kamitomo and the Pearl Harbor comment. The test then is if the conduct inheres in the verdict, the conduct cannot be considered which is explained as follows:
"In considering the affidavits filed, we entirely discard those portions which may tend to impeach the verdict of the jurors, and consider only those facts stated in relation to misconduct of the juror, and which in no way inhere in the verdict itself. It is not for the juror to say what effect the remarks may have had upon his verdict, but he may state facts, and from them the court will determine what was the probable effect upon the verdict. It is for the court to say whether the remarks made by the juror in this case probably had a prejudicial effect upon the minds of the other jurors."
Division III affirmed the granting of a new trial, holding that the jurors’ bias and prejudice did not allow for an objective view of the evidence. The Turners were denied a fair trial and thus a new trial was granted.