Despite indications that a jury might have misunderstood what evidence it was allowed to consider and that one juror called the plaintiff a liar in a discussion outside the jury room, an appeals court found there were not sufficient grounds to reverse the no-cause verdict.
The appeals court upheld the verdict and the trial judge’s denial of a request for either post-verdict questioning of the jurors or a new trial. The plaintiff had sued over whiplash injuries to her neck allegedly from a 2010 automobile accident, where her car was rear ended and her head slammed into the back of her seat, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.
At the trial, the defendant argued that the plaintiff must prove a permanent injury. The plaintiff presented medical evidence of neck herniation and facet joint syndrome, which produced radiating pain but did not show up on the MRI. The plaintiff said she suffers daily neck pain that worsens when she lifts heavy objects and long-lasting headaches, according to the law journal. Trial judge James Den Uyl instructed the jury that the plaintiff had to prove her claim “through objective, credible, medical evidence” and the injury “must be verified by physical examination or medical testing and cannot be based solely upon the plaintiff’s subjective complaint.”
During deliberations, the jury asked the court, “Is the evidence of permanent damage based on just the herniated/bulging/protruding disc?” Both sides agreed to the judge’s suggestion to call the jury in and ask them to clarify what information they were looking for, according to New Jersey Law Journal, but since neither side wanted to interrupt the jurors, the judge took no action. The jury returned its verdict – 6-0 that the woman who sued had failed to prove permanent injury – without getting an answer to the question.
As the judge was thanking the jury, one juror attempted to speak with him but he said he could answer only written questions from the jury as a whole, a court document said. The following day, the plaintiff said, that same juror called her and said the jury believed they had to decide the case based on the MRI not on the clinical finding that she had permanent spasms.
The general rule is that evidence from jury deliberations will not warrant a new trial, except for instances of racial or religious bigotry or where a juror provided other jurors with facts not in evidence, according to New Jersey Law Journal. The plaintiff’s lawyer said the jury should have been given further direction on what proof satisfied the law.