MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL - JUROR FAILURE TO ANSWER VOIR DIRE QUESTION - HOOD V. MCELROY
In Hood v. McElroy, [Ms. 1091075, Sept. 30, 2011] __ So. 3d __(Ala. 2011), the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the trial court's order granting the plaintiff's motion for a new trial. The issue on appeal was whether the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting the plaintiff's motion for a new trial based on the juror's failure to answer a question truthfully during voir dire. This was a wrongful death action that resulted in a $25,000.00 verdict for Plaintiffs. Subsequent to trial, the estate learned that a juror had been a defendant in two collection actions in small claims court in which a consent or default judgment had been entered. That particular juror did not respond when counsel for the estate asked whether any juror had ever been a defendant in a lawsuit. The estate, in its postjudgment motion, argued that, because this particular juror had been a defendant in two cases in which the plaintiff was seeking money damages, the estate would have struck this juror if this particular juror had answered the question accurately. The estate argued that this juror's failure to respond to voir dire questions substantially prejudiced the estate. The Court held that although parties in a case are entitled to truthful answers to questions asked on voir dire so that they can make wise decisions in exercising their peremptory strikes, not every failure of juror to respond properly to a question propounded during voir dire automatically entitles a party to a new trial. Rather, the proper inquiry on a motion for a new trial based on improper non-existent responses to voir dire questions is whether the response, or lack of response, resulted in probable prejudice to the movant. The juror who had failed to answer the question had been sued for approximately $2650.00 in two apparently uncontested small claims court collection actions. The Court held this juror's failure to tell the estate's counsel about these two small claims court collection actions does not provide adequate support for a finding of "probable prejudice." The Court reversed the order granting a new trial.