COA reverses denied for-cause challenge against unwilling juror, orders new trial

A wrongful death case will proceed to retrial after the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a woman’s motion to strike a potential juror who expressed an unwillingness to decide the question of damages.

In Tammi Clark, as personal representative of the estate of Kandace Pyles, deceased, v. Samer Mattar, M.D., 19A-CT-380, a member of the venire informed Tammi Clark’s counsel that he was unable and unwilling to determine a damages in a medical malpractice verdict. Clark, the personal representative of Kandace Pyles’ estate, filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Samer Mattar seeking non-economic damages.

Clark moved to strike venireman Miller for cause, but the Marion Superior Court denied the motion, concluding Miller did not meet the qualifications for such a challenge. Clark then used one of her peremptory challenges to remove Miller, a challenge she later could not use to remove Juror 3, who was objectionable. 

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with Clark’s assertion that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to strike Miller. It concluded that Miller’s statement did, in fact, amount to bias or prejudice against Clark’s party.

“We have little trouble concluding that a stated refusal to participate in a determination of non-economic damages amounts to bias or prejudice against a plaintiff seeking such damages,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the panel. “Although Miller certainly expressed no bias or prejudice against Clark in particular, his statements would apply to any plaintiff seeking damages for non-economic loss in a lawsuit, a class to which Clark clearly belonged.”

The court then that although Miller had initially expressed a willingness to follow the law before speaking with Clark’s counsel, his opinion changed considerably when he was informed what the law actually was.

Additionally, the appellate court found that because Clark was forced to accept the objectionable Juror 3, and because she demonstrated prejudice pursuant to Oswalt v. State, 19 N.E.3d 241, 250 (Ind. 2014), she established that the trial court’s erroneous denial of her motion to strike Miller for cause was reversible error.

The case was therefore reversed and remanded with instructions for a new trial.

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