JEFFERSON CITY — Plaintiffs who lost a medical malpractice case at trial also lost an appeal challenging a juror's qualification.
Marlin Thomas and Ma Sheryll Joy Thomas sued Mercy Hospital-Washington and Mercy Clinic East Communities in 2013 in Franklin County over brain damage suffered by their son Thaddeus Thomas during a cesarean-section delivery.
The case went to trial in 2015, and jurors ruled for defendants, according to court records.
At issue on appeal was plaintiffs' objection to Franklin County Circuit Judge Gael D. Wood's decision not to strike "Juror 24," who according to plaintiffs expressed a disqualifying bias in favor of defendants.
In an opinion issued Aug. 1, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding, without additional questioning, that Juror 24 was "rehabilitated" when the entire juror interview process known as voir dire was considered, "including her later statement that she could follow the trial court's instructions."
"The trial court was in the best position to determine whether the prospective juror was disqualified," the opinion states. "This Court affirms."
At issue was the juror's answers to questions from the plaintiffs' counsel regarding whether she would start deliberations "having a touch in favor" of defendants.
The sister of Juror 24 is employed as a nurse working in the burn unit of Mercy Hospital, the ruling indicates.
Juror 24 answered, "Yep, probably," when asked whether she could be slightly in favor of defendants.
The plaintiffs' counsel told the judge he doubted whether Juror 24 could set aside bias, whereas the defense counsel argued that the ultimate question was whether the juror would set aside prejudice and follow the trial court's instructions.
According to the ruling, Wood said she would give counsel the opportunity to "rehabilitate" the juror before deciding her qualification.
Defense counsel then asked Juror 24 whether she could do her "level best" to decide the case based just on what she hears in the courtroom and just on the evidence, and not what her sister has told her. She answered that she had heard both good and bad from her sister.
Wood overruled the plaintiffs' motion to strike Juror 24, and the case proceeded.
In concluding that the trial court did not err in allowing Juror 24, the Supreme Court held that the "trial court independently considered the entire voir dire examination, determined prospective juror 24’s unequivocal testimony indicated she had been successfully rehabilitated, and found she was qualified to serve on the jury. This Court cannot agree with plaintiffs that the trial court abused its broad discretion by allowing prospective juror 24 to serve on the jury."