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COA orders hearing to determine juror bias against plaintiff

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a trial court should have ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a juror in an auto accident case was biased against the plaintiff instead of ordering a new trial regarding damages.

Larry Clemons sued Lloyd Diehl for damages after an auto accident in which Diehl admitted to rear-ending Clemons’ car. Diehl denied that the collision caused Clemons any damages.

After a two-day trial, the court awarded Clemons zero dollars in damages. Clemons filed a motion to correct error, pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 59(A). He alleged that Juror No. 289 had committed misconduct when he failed to state on his juror questionnaire that nearly 12 years earlier he had been a defendant in a civil lawsuit that arose from a vehicular collision.

The trial court agreed with Clemons, concluding the juror was biased or prejudiced against Clemons because the juror had been named as a civil defendant in a prior auto accident case and Clemons’ counsel, unaware of the previous case, during voir dire spoke favorably of the attorney who had represented the plaintiff in the juror’s case. The court ordered a new trial on the question of damages.

In Lloyd J. Diehl v. Larry J. Clemons, 45A04-1309-CT-460, the appeals court reversed. The judges agreed with Diehl that the trial court’s order fails to explain sufficiently why the jury verdict must be set aside as inadequate.  They noted that the trial court order failed to seriously address the litany of evidence brought forth by Diehl’s counsel in his cross-examination of Clemons’ witnesses. The trial court’s failure to assess this and other opposing evidence and relate it to the question of damages is reversible error.

The judges agreed that Juror No. 289’s response on the questionnaire failed to disclose a material fact, which concealed a potential source of bias against Clemons. But the possibility of bias or prejudice alone is not enough to set aside a jury verdict.

The trial court should have ordered an evidentiary hearing instead of ordering a new trial based on juror misconduct, the COA ruled.

The judges remanded with instructions for the court to hold this evidentiary hearing to determine whether Juror No. 289 was in fact biased or prejudiced against Clemons.
 

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