The California Court of Appeals reached a decision in a tow truck accident case, Threadgill v. Extreme Auto Recovery, Inc., Cal. Ct. App. (2014), in which they had to review a claim of jury misconduct, arising from a deputy’s discovery in the jury deliberation room.
In the case, the plaintiff claimed that he was struck by a tow truck, when he was attempting to get the driver’s attention as his car was being repossessed. The plaintiff claimed that he was standing in between the tow truck and his vehicle when he became injured. The plaintiff went to the hospital following the incident, and was informed that his Achilles tendon was ruptured, which required a subsequent surgery.
At trial, an accident reconstruction expert testified for the defense that there was no way the defendant could have been struck in the manner he described. An orthopedic surgeon also testified for the defense, that it was unlikely that the plaintiff was struck when the injury occurred, and explained how individuals that suffer an Achilles injury like the plaintiff’s often feel as though they have been kicked, when in fact they have not. Additionally, plaintiff’s wife testified that he was standing on the front step, not in between the two vehicles, when the incident occurred.
Just before the jury was to report its verdict in the case, the trial judge informed the parties that the deputy had observed some toy cars in the jury deliberation room, and that he assumed they may have been for demonstration purposes, but didn’t know for certain. Plaintiff’s counsel stated in response, “we’ll go with it your honor.” The jury then announced its decision, finding the defendant negligent, but that his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.
Thereafter, the plaintiff moved for a new trial, alleging jury misconduct, in that the jury’s use of toy cars constituted an improper experimentation, producing new evidence. In support of its claim, plaintiff relied solely on the trial court’s statement that the deputy saw toy cars in the jury room. The plaintiff did not submit any affidavits from the jurors or the deputy in support of the motion. The trial court denied the motion, and did not release a decision. The plaintiff then appealed.
The defense argued that the court of appeals should not hear the plaintiff’s claim of alleged juror misconduct, because plaintiff did not raise an objection at the time the trial court judge informed the parties of the potential issue. The standard, as the court of appeals stated, is that, when the potential juror misconduct is discovered before the jury states the verdict, the party must raise its objection at that time in order to avoid forfeiture.
In response, plaintiff’s counsel argued that because they did not see the toy cars, counsel could not determine that the toy cars were incapable of accurately representing the cars involved in the accident. The court of appeals did not accept the argument that counsel had to see the cars in order to realize that they were not representative, and thus the claim was deemed as forfeited.
Even if the challenge wasn’t forfeited, the court stated that it would have rejected the claim for a lack of evidence to support it. As it stated, “It is well established it is misconduct for a juror . . . to engage in an experiment which produces new evidence.” However, because no affidavits were introduced into evidence on appeal regarding how the cars were used, etc., there was no evidence that new evidence was created by the jurors.
Furthermore, the court reviewed the record on the matter of the potential prejudicial value of any supposed experiment with the cars. It found that the defense’s case was strong, especially considering the expert witness’s testimony stating that there was no possible way that the defendant could have hit the plaintiff in the manner claimed. Therefore, the court found that any potential prejudice was unlikely, and that in any case it was overcome by the strength of defendant’s case.
Therefore, the judgment for defendant was affirmed.
If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to understand your rights so that you can ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. The lawyers at Sharifi Firm, PLC have significant experience in handling car accident cases throughout California. If you have been involved in a car accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached through this website, or by calling (866) 422-7222.
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California Court of Appeals Rules in Case Alleging Premature Declaration of Death, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published March 13, 2015