Coates v. Jones (U)

In this medical-malpractice action, the trial court properly declined the to strike two members of the jury venire for cause.

The first prospective juror had a nursing license but was not working in the field of medicine at the time of trial. She stated that, in her own experience as a nurse, she encountered patients who “manipulated sometimes.” When asked if these specific experiences with manipulative patients formed an initial partiality to a healthcare provider, she responded: “Maybe a little bit.” But she expressed no reservations about being able to listen to the evidence from both sides and the instructions of law from the judge and render a decision based on that information. on this record, this court is unable to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion with respect to prospective juror one.

The second prospective juror expressed no concern about applying the law to the facts of the case without resorting to sympathy. He did not worry that there were too may lawsuits “hurting the healthcare community.” He expressed no reservations about being able to listen to the evidence from both sides and the instructions of law from the judge and render a decision based on that information. However, he expressed reservations about the ability to provide a specific dollar figure for amorphous damages like mental anguish. He candidly confessed that he didn’t “have any domain knowledge on how much would be an adequate amount to charge for any kind of recovery.” However, he said that, if the evidence supported a finding of damages, he would be able to render a decision based on the instructions that the court gives you.

Prospective jurors can and often do hold personal opinions on a wide range of subjects like capital punishment, tort reform, or the health care system, and nevertheless be willing and able to set aside their personal opinions to follow the instructions of the court and fulfill their responsibilities as jurors. A plausible reading to the record is that while prospective juror two firmly held certain personal views on what the law ought to be with respect to the preponderance of the evidence and the ability of a citizen juror to fix damages for amorphous harms like mental anguish, the questions posed and his responses to those questions establish that he harbored no bias and was willing to follow the instructions of the court.

Affirmed. Three justices dissented.

Coates v. Jones (U), No. 180266, Apr. 11, 2019. SCV (per curiam) from City of Richmond.



Categories: Opinions, Supreme Court of Virginia, Unpublished

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