The First Division Georgia Court of Appeals overturned directed verdict in a carbon monoxide brain injury lawsuit after the trial court made multiple errors on what are frankly, some pretty basic issues.
First, the trial court erred in jury selection. Two possible jurors said they could be biased yet no effort was made to follow up with those prospective jurors to inquire about the bias. This is a no-brainer. Jurors at risk for bias have to be examined and bias concerns must be resolved. This is made pretty clear in Being a Judge 101. Apparently, this case was in a Mayberry-like town and both jurors were biased in favor of the defense lawyer, who they knew, and said they would be biased in favor of deciding the case. Check this out:
JUROR: I’m a CPA in Cordele.
[LAWYER]: You know—
JUROR: I mean, he’s my client and my attorney, so you know I’ve worked on many occasions with him.
[LAWYER]: I’m not sure this is-I don’t want to be inappropriate with the question, but is he your current client?
[LAWYER]: Is it on a personal basis?
JUROR : Yes.
[LAWYER]: Well, I’ve asked a few times, but I’m going to have to ask again if that would—he’s your client, would you be inclined to try to find in his favor?
JUROR : What do you think? Of course. (I love this. What do you think?)
The Plaintiff’s lawyer, or course, wanted to strike the juror for cause. Here’s another:
JUROR: His son graduated with my daughter and he’s (Inaudible). He’s represented me on several things.
[LAWYER]: And I don’t want to pry too much, but can you give me just a real general idea of the types of things he’s represented—
JUROR: On a house closing, the will, and my divorce.
[LAWYER]: He was—he represented you in that process?
JUROR: (No Audible Response).
[LAWYER]: Would your experience with [plaintiff’s lawyer], him being your lawyer previously, would that affect you if you’re asked to be on this jury and find either for or against his client?
JUROR: That could probably affect it.
[LAWYER]: Would you be inclined to tilt towards [plaintiff’s lawyer]?
JUROR: Yes, sir.
Can you imagine a more obvious conflict? The judge kept them in the panel. Really, judges can get away with murder in voir dire. But apparently not first degree murder in Georgia.
Second, the court allowed defense counsel to make clear that there were collateral sources contributing to plaintiffs’ damages. The court found the obvious: this contaminated the entire jury panel.
You can read the full opinion in the Georgia carbon monoxide poisoning case here.