A lawyer’s failure to follow a judge’s orders can result in a penalty for that lawyer’s client. In extreme cases, it can also cancel the entire trial for fear of the mistake influencing the outcome too heavily. That’s why I was interested, as a Missouri motor vehicle accident attorney, to see an opnion involving this kind of mistrial from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In Warger v. Shauers, the trial court had already declared a mistrial once because the attorney for the defense had ignored an order not to offer legal opinions on whether a driver’s behavior violated state law. The attorney made the exact same mistake a second time in the new trial, but this time, the judge permitted the trial to continue, saying the mistake was not prejudicial. The jury ultimately found for the defense, and the Eighth Circuit ruled that the plaintiff was not entitled to a new trial or judgment as a matter of law.
Randy Shauers of was driving a truck pulling a trailer when he clipped a motorcycle ridden by Gregory Warger. The crash required that Warger’s left leg be amputated. Warger’s resulting lawsuit went to trial in South Dakota district court in 2010, but it resulted in a mistrial. The judge had issued an order permitting expert witnesses to offer their opinions on the drivers’ conduct, but not on whether that conduct violates South Dakota law. The second time around, the same attorney again violated the order, by asking whether Warger, the motorcyclist, “had to yield to the right of way and not enter… until he [was] certain” there was no oncoming traffic. Warger’s attorney asked for a mistrial, but the judge denied this, saying the statement was not prejudicial. After the verdict for Shauers, one juror accused the jury foreperson of voting based on sympathy for Shauers’s youth. The district court refused to grant judgment as a matter of law or a new trial.
Warger appealed, but had no luck at the Eighth Circuit. To merit a new trial, the violation of the judge’s order had to be prejudicial, meaning it likely had an effect on the verdict. In this case, while the Eighth found the violation was clear, it found no prejudice resulting because the judge asked the jury to ignore it. Warger argued that this instruction came too late because it was given after a recess, but the court found it wasn’t clear how this was supposed to have affected the jury’s verdict. The court next agreed with the district judge that the evidence was sufficient for the verdict; it saw no reason to second-guess the jury, given evidence favoring both sides presented at trial. Finally, it denied a new trial or a favorable judgment despite the jury foreperson’s alleged misconduct. Jurors’ prejudices and improper motives are not extraneous information liable to review, the court said, nor is it appropriate to consider alleged dishonesty during voir dire. It affirmed the lower court.
As a St. Louis motorcycle accident lawyer, I would be especially concerned about the juror’s alleged misconduct. The opinion says the foreperson claimed a judgment after a similar crash could have ruined the life of her adult daughter, and convinced other jurors to find for Shauers based on his youth. (No mention was made of whether Warger’s life was ruined by only having one leg.) Juries are supposed to make their decisions according to the evidence, not according to which side most closely resembles their loved ones. As the Eighth Circuit observed, a certain amount of personal bias is inevitable, but no one would argue that this is acceptable if the decision had been based on race or religion. As a southern Illinois car crash attorney, I fight hard for clients facing this kind of unfavorable decision.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients who have suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s bad judgment in traffic. To learn more or set up a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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