Tennessee Jurors Claim They Faced Court Pressure in Malpractice Case

July 1, 2009

Four jurors wrote affidavits claiming they felt coerced by the court to rule against a doctor who lost a $6.12 million medical malpractice case, a The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

The affidavits came in the case of Dr. Michael Goodman, a gastroenterologist with a private practice at the Medical Mall in Erlanger hospital in Hamilton County. A jury issued the award in May in favor of 33-year-old Kristen Freeman.

Freeman suffered cardiac arrest and permanent, debilitating brain damage from complications of a colonoscopy and endoscopy performed by Goodman in 2006.

The four jurors, whose names were not made public, said they felt coerced by the court to change their minds and find fault with Goodman in the interest only of saving the time and expense of having to retry the case.

“I stated to some, if not all, of the jurors, that I felt like I had just sold my soul to the devil,” one juror said in a sworn affidavit.

Freeman’s attorneys have filed similar affidavits in response to the defense’s, with at least one juror who was in favor of Freeman stating that no one felt pressure to decide one way or another.

The unusual affidavits have caused an uproar in southeastern Tennessee because of the light shown on the normally secretive deliberation process.

“I’ll say (these affidavits) are not just rare. It is extremely rare for this to happen,” said veteran plaintiff’s attorney Sam Jones, who has practiced law in Chattanooga for 30 years. “Jury deliberations are almost sacrosanct.”

By law, jurors simply aren’t required to explain themselves. Hamilton County Courts do not bar jurors from discussing their deliberations.

Goodman’s attorney, David Harrison, spoke with the jurors after the trial, which led to the affidavits that the defense says are proof that the court erred in its instructions to jurors.

The affidavits indicate that juror opinion initially was split down the middle in the contentious case, and the juror said she would have been fine with a different jury deciding the case when faced with the prospect of deadlock.

Jeffrey Boehm, a longtime Chattanooga plaintiff’s attorney, likened the affidavits to an attempt to “reconstruct history.”

“Trying to reconstruct a juror’s decision is bad policy and it can only lead to mischief. It ought to be discouraged,” Boehm said.

The contradiction between Goodman’s juror affidavits and Freeman’s juror affidavits is exactly the problem with seeking juror input after the fact, Jones said. It’s also why appellate courts tend to ignore juror deliberations except where there is proof of outside influence, Jones said.

“You can talk to the 12 jurors and they’re all going to give you a different story. Not one of those jurors would be intentionally lying,” Jones said.


Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press

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