A Texas jury delivered a $32 million verdict against the makers of Vioxx. Now attorneys firm Merck want to obtain bank and cell phone records because one of the juror’s had just paid off a $10,000 loan from one of the plaintiffs that was a party to the case. According to an article in Lawyers Weekly USA, a school janitor jury member was earning $22,000 a year and has testified in a post-trial deposition that he paid off the last $2500 due under a loan from one of the plaintiffs, just before he was selected as a juror in the case.
Cell phone records have shown calls between the jury member’s cell phone and one of the plaintiffs between the date that the jury member received his written jury summons and the day before jury selection. Any such discussions between a plaintiff and such jury panel members must be disclosed at the time of jury selection. The article did not state whether any contact between the plaintiff and this jury panel member was disclosed during jury selection.
In personal injury litigation, both the plaintiff and the defendant attorneys are entitled to question potential jury members about their dealings or relationship with any of the parties. One mandatory rule is that potential jurors must disclose if they know any of the parties to the case or their lawyers, and also must disclose the extent of any such relationship. Our jury system would be meaningless unless attorneys could explore these types of relationships for potential bias of a juror. Every state has rules for asking the judge to dismiss jury panel members that may have a relationship with a party or their attorneys is as just one example of many rules.
If in fact the juror did not disclose the existence of the loan in jury selection (unclear from the article) it will be interesting to see if the verdict is set aside, especially after a weeks long trial and such a significant Plaintiff’s verdict. Generally, courts are very hesitant to set aside a verdict if the information (that was supposedly hidden) could have easily been discovered by the attorneys during jury selection, or by merely pressing for more information after a general disclosure in jury selection.