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Superior Court Vacates Jury Verdict Due to Voir Dire Error (PA)

May 31, 2018

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently vacated a jury verdict and remanded the case for new trial based on an error in the jury selection process.  In <em><a href="">Mendy Trigg, individually, and Smithfield Trust, Inc. as the guardian of the estate of Jillian Trigg, a minor v. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC</a> </em>No. 1041 WDA 2017, Plaintiffs filed an appeal following a jury verdict in favor of the Children’s Hospital of UPMC.  At trial, Plaintiffs alleged that the Hospital injured Jillian Trigg during her recover from surgery.  On appeal, Trigg asserted that the trial court erred in denying the Trigg’s motion to strike for cause a potential juror who displayed bias and prejudice in favor of medical professionals.
During <em>voir dire</em>, Trigg attempted to strike for cause a potential juror who answered that both her sister and brother-in-law were doctors and that she would probably tend to favor a medical professional in situations that were a “close call.” However, the trial court refused to strike this juror for cause, thereby forcing Trigg to use a peremptory strike.  Eventually, Trigg was forced to use all four of their permitted peremptory strikes before the jury was seated.  Thus, Trigg argued that the trial court’s refusal to strike the potential juror for cause prejudiced Trigg as they were forced to use a peremptory strike in order to prevent the obviously biased potential juror from being seated on the jury.
The Superior Court explained that, because the trial judge based his underlying rulings on the transcript of the voir dire rather than in-person observation, the Superior Court exercised a de novo standard of review which was plenary in scope.  The Court further stated that the potential juror’s answers regarding her familial relationship and opinion of medical professionals illustrated an implicit trust for medical professionals which could lead her to assume that the medical professionals sued in the case would do no harm.
The Court concluded that the potential juror’s predisposition would have influenced her deliberations and that this was justification to strike her for cause.  Additionally, the Court held that the trial court’s refusal to strike the potential juror for cause constituted reversible error because Trigg was forced to use one of their peremptory strikes and then subsequently exhausted all of their remaining peremptory challenges before the jury was seated.  Finally, the Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for a new jury selection and trial.  Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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