California Court Upholds Damages Verdict in Favor of Plaintiffs Injured in Truck Accident Because Evidence Overcame any Potential Prejudice from Juror Misconduct

big rigAn appeal involving allegations of juror misconduct came before the California Court of Appeal for the Second District. In an unpublished opinion, the court focused on the presumption of prejudice upon a showing of juror misconduct and the fact it can be overcome by evidence. The court stated that juror misconduct is one ground for granting a new trial, and a three-step process is required to assess whether a new trial is appropriate.  First, the court determines whether the affidavits supporting the motion are admissible. Next, the court assesses whether the facts establish juror misconduct. Finally, if there was misconduct, the trial court must determine whether prejudice resulted from the misconduct.

In the underlying incident, the plaintiff suffered injuries in a truck collision when the defendant’s semi-truck rear-ended the plaintiff’s semi-truck.  Liability was not disputed, but the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries were at issue.  After a jury trial, a verdict awarded the plaintiff $241,473 in damages.  The defendant argued that there was juror misconduct and that as a result he had been denied a fair trial. He contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the damages award.

Juror misconduct raises a rebuttable presumption of prejudice, but the court stated that despite the defendant’s assertions, there is no requirement that affirmative proof rebut the presumption of prejudice.  In this case, the plaintiff’s treating physician and the defendant’s expert testified as to the need for surgery to repair the injury to the plaintiff’s shoulder, as well as the reasonable cost of care for treatment. After the trial, it became clear that one juror, Dakota Mitchell, had relied on his own experience as a personal trainer in order to determine the plaintiff’s injuries, and he also described his interactions with other jurors.

The rule is that jurors’ internal thoughts are inadmissible to impeach a verdict.  In order to impeach a verdict, there must be evidence of objectively ascertainable statements or conditions. The appellate court stated that it had been misconduct for the juror to discuss his opinion, when it was based not on evidence but on his own expertise or knowledge. The court made clear that Mr. Mitchell’s statements to the jurors during deliberations created a presumption of prejudice that was then rebutted by evidence.

Here, the evidence showed that the accident caused an injury to the plaintiff’s left shoulder and that surgery was the appropriate course of treatment. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the accident caused the plaintiff’s shoulder injury and that surgery was the appropriate treatment. The defendant’s expert also testified that surgery would be an acceptable treatment for the plaintiff’s shoulder injury.

If there were any presumption of prejudice, the court stated that the evidence rebutted this presumption.  Furthermore, the court made clear that Mr. Mitchell’s confusion regarding whether the plaintiff suffered a full or partial tear did not influence the other jurors.  Therefore, the court stated there had not been prejudicial juror misconduct.

Turning to damages, the court stated the rule that an appellate court applies a substantial evidence standard when reviewing a jury’s award of damages. The court interferes when the jury award is disproportionate to the injuries suffered, such that it shocks the conscience and compels the conclusion that the award was based on passion or prejudice.  Since there are no fixed standards for an appeals court to measure the extent of damages a plaintiff has suffered from a defendant’s wrongful act, the court is required to uphold the jury and trial judge when possible.

In this case, the court stated substantial evidence supported the $241,473 damages award, which included past medical costs of $56,473 and $135,000 in past physical and mental pain and suffering, as well as $50,000 for future physical and emotional pain and suffering.

The court noted that Dr. Wilker, an expert, testified regarding the plaintiff’s costs and noted medical expenses ranged from $53,000 to $79,000.  Regarding the past and future emotional and physical suffering, the plaintiff had testified as to his pain and inability to continue working as a truck driver.  Dr. Wilker stated that the plaintiff had reached “maximum medical improvement” for his condition, and he would likely experience shoulder pain for the rest of his life.

Since the appellate court does not reweigh the evidence, they stated that they must consider it in the light most favorable to the judgment. In this case, substantial evidence supported the damages award.

The court affirmed the judgment.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident, you may be entitled to  compensation for your injuries as well as your pain and suffering. The truck accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide a complimentary consultation. Contact our offices by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Injured Plaintiffs May Show Value of Medical Services through Medical Testimony, Not Unpaid Medical Bills, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 13, 2016

California Court of Appeals Rules on Liability of Motor Carrier for Negligence of Contract Driver, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 15, 2015

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