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Missouri Supreme Court Rules On Whether Juror Was Biased In Medical Malpractice Trial

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that a juror should not have been disqualified for bias from a medical malpractice suit where their baby was born with brain damage. A jury in Franklin County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the defendant, Mercy Hospital East, in a medical negligence claim after a Cesarean section delivery of Marlin and MaSheryll Thomas’ baby. The plaintiffs claimed that the court erred in failing to excuse a potential juror involved in the finding who could have been biased toward favoring the defendant.

The Appeal

A Missouri Appeals Court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial stating that the juror may have had “slight favor” for Mercy because her sister worked as a nurse at one of their facilities. Next, the Supreme Court decided in a 6-0 majority that the juror lacked prior knowledge of the matter and had no opinion that would warrant her being disqualified. The attorney for the plaintiffs claimed that the juror said she would do “her best”; however, never stated definitively that she could be fair and impartial.

Juror Confirms Impartiality

Court records explained that the juror confirmed that she would not give either party “more credibility”. She explained that bias truly did not exist and that she had only heard general opinions from her sister in discussions about her job experiences at a different Mercy facility, where she worked in the burn unit. The juror agreed that she was capable of deciding the case exclusively based on evidence presented in the court and not based on conversations with her sister (none of which involved this claim).

Plaintiff’s Theory of Malpractice

A Mercy physician expressed concern about the baby’s lack of movement and suggested inducing labor, which the mother consented to. Amid the process, the fetal heart rate was declining and all parties then agreed to proceed with a Cesarean section. The plaintiff’s case was that upon noticing the lack of movement, the physician should have suggested going immediately with a Cesarean. Instead, they induced labor for vaginal delivery, at which time they noticed the decline in heartrate, which the plaintiff believes was the reason for the brain damage. 

After the birth, the baby showed signs of seizure and had a clenched fist and jaw. Mercy’s lawyers claimed that evidence of brain tissue damage existed; however, this type of damage could take up to 24 hours to develop. The defense further explained that the absence of movement detected prior to inducing labor suggested that the brain injury had already occurred, likely from interaction with the umbilical cord. The plaintiffs were not successful in proving this theory of causation.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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