impact on a jury verdict
The South Dakota Supreme
Court upheld a trial court's decision that granted a motion
for a new trial alleging jury misconduct.
The plaintiff had claimed
that the seat belts unlatched during a deadly accident
because they were negligently designed. He brought suit
against the manufacturer Takata Corporation and its American
Subsidiary, TK Holdings, Inc. Prior to the trial the then
prospective juror Flynn conducted two quick Google searches,
one for Takata, one for TK Holdings. It was revealed to him
that Takata is a seat belt and airbag manufacturer and that
TK Holdings is the American subsidiary of Takata.
During the trial evidence
was presented that Takata had notice its seat belts were
defective. At least four drivers claimed their seatbelts had
come unbuckled during accidents. Ten other lawsuits had been
filed against Takata.
juror Flynn told another juror about his web search. He said
he did not find any information on other lawsuits during his search. Three other
jurors heard the exchange. The jury finally reached its
verdict for the defense.
Following a motion by the plaintiff,
the trial court set aside the verdict on finding that one juror
introduced extrinsic evidence into deliberation that
prejudiced the jury and swayed the outcome. Extrinsic
evidence includes "knowledge relevant to the facts in
issue not obtained through the introduction of evidence but
acquired prior to trial."
The Supreme court agreed,
but did not announce a "hard and fast rule that all such
types of internet research by a juror prior to trial without
notice to the court and counsel automatically doom a jury's
verdict. Rather, as we do in such cases, we give deference
to the trial court, which had the distinct advantage of
being present throughout the nineteen-day trial."