Juror’s Facebook Posts May Overturn Wrongful Death Verdict

Closeup of man texting on a smartphoneThanks to an overly-social jury foreman who chatted up his friends about the trial on his public Facebook page, a verdict in a wrongful death case may be overturned.

During the 2009 Missouri medical malpractice trial, the foreman talks on Facebook about serving on the jury, showing up for duty, reveals that he was the foreman, brags about the speedy deliberations, and repeatedly laments the court’s lack of an open bar.

“Yes, I was the jury forearm [sic]… Complete deliberations and verdict delivered in under one hour,” the foreman posted. “Civic duty fulfilled and justice served. Now, where’s my cocktail????”

The jury ruled in favor of the doctors, and awarded zero to the family of the patient, Lindy Taylor, who went to the hospital with a swollen left leg and was allegedly misdiagnosed, then developed brain damage that lead to her death.

The family’s attorney is now appealing its courtroom loss to a state appeals court, arguing that they did not get a fair trial because of the jury foreman’s Facebook posts.

 

Jurors behaving badly

If you serve on jury duty, most likely nowadays the judge, whether it’s a civil or criminal case, will instruct you that in addition to not talking about the case with fellow jurors, family or friends, you should not Facebook, tweet, text or use any other social media to communicate about the case.

Still, the warnings often fall on deaf ears.

Last year in Arkansas, a murder conviction and death sentence was thrown out because of a tweeting Juror No. 2.

And in another criminal case in West Virginia, a juror told the judge she didn’t know the defendant, but forgot to mention during jury selection that the defendant was one of her MySpace friends. She then posted a message on his page one week before trial, causing his felony fraud convictions to get overturned.

 

‘Like an open diary’

In the medical malpractice case, Lindy Taylor’s husband, John, and two sons sued doctors for her death.

Attorney Paul Redfearn headshot

Attorney Paul Redfearn

At trial, their attorney, Paul Redfearn, alleged that after complaining of a swollen leg, doctors missed that she had a rare disorder of the artery called May-Thurner Syndrome that can lead to blood clots. She was readmitted and treated with anticoagulants that caused brain damage and death.

During the trial, the exchanges between the foreman and his Facebook friends went something like this:

Oct. 1: “Got picked for jury duty.”

Oct. 2: “Sworn to secrecy as to details of this case. Most importantly there is no beverage service and the 3:00 p.m. Cocktail hour is not observed!”

Oct. 5: “Drunk and having a great food at our fav neighborhood hangout.”

Oct. 10: “Back in the box for day 7.”

Oct. 11: “Starting day 8 of jury duty.”

Oct. 11: “Civic duty fulfilled and justice served. Now, where’s my cocktail????”

Oct. 11: Civil case… Verdict for the defendants… Yes, I was the jury forearm … Complete deliberations and verdict delivered in under one hour.”

His friends posted responses like:

Oct. 2: “If he’s cute and has a nice butt, he’s innocent!”

Oct. 9: “I’m still amazed they allow jurors to nip from a flask all day,”

Oct. 9: “Remember nice ass = innocent!”

Oct. 11: “Was it Miss Peacock in the library with the lead pipe?”

Even if it’s wrong, just because a juror blabbed about the trial on Twitter or Facebook, that alone is not going to be enough to get a verdict thrown out.

Law Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister headshot

Law Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister

“You have to show there was prejudice, that you were denied the right to an impartial juror,” said Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister, who teaches law at the University of Dayton and blogs about jury trials and social media.

Instead of looking at what the juror said on social media, courts may be more concerned about what kind of responses the juror got from friends.

“If a juror is just posting, it’s like an open diary for the world to see. But if someone is responding back to them, that could show that the juror was influenced by outside parties,” Hoffmeister said.

He added that in one of the worst cases of jurors misusing social media, a juror in England conducted a mini-poll of friends on whether they thought the defendant accused of sexual assault was guilty or innocent.

In the medical malpractice case in question, given that the friends’ posts were joking and seemed unlikely to influence the foreman, the chances of overturning the verdict in this case are slim, Hoffmeister suggested.

“It’s misconduct, but if that’s the only thing they have to hang their hat on, I don’t think it’s enough,” he said.

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