DAVID KERVICK, EXECUTOR (ESTATE OF RUTH FARRELL) v. SILVER HILL HOSPITAL et al., SC 18805/18806

Judicial District of Stamford

 

      Jury Bias; Whether the Trial Court Properly Declined to Poll the Jury to Determine Whether any Juror had Read an Article that Concerned the Subject Matter of the Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Action.  The decedent committed suicide while she was a patient at the defendant hospital.  Thereafter, the executor of the decedent's estate commenced this medical malpractice action against the hospital and the decedent's treating psychiatrist.  After a jury had been impaneled, the New York Times published an extensive article regarding the decedent's suicide.  Immediately prior to the start of the evidence, the plaintiff requested that the trial court poll the jury to determine whether any of the jurors had read the article.  The trial court denied the plaintiff's request, concluding that it would be more appropriate to simply instruct the jury to ignore any media reports concerning the decedent's suicide.  The jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, and, on appeal, the plaintiff maintained that the trial court improperly denied his request to poll the jury.  The Appellate Court (128 Conn. App. 341) agreed, finding significant the fact that, prior to the publication of the article, no judge had instructed the jury to avoid media coverage of the upcoming trial.  It further emphasized that the parties' attorneys did not have the opportunity to question prospective jurors regarding their possible exposure to the article because the article had not yet been published at the time of voir dire.  It also determined that, given the inflammatory nature of the article, it was unlikely that a juror who had been exposed to it could have remained impartial.  The court therefore concluded that, once the plaintiff sufficiently raised the possibility of jury bias, the trial court became obligated to conduct a preliminary inquiry into whether any juror had been exposed to the article.  Accordingly, it held that the trial court abused its discretion and jeopardized the plaintiff’s constitutional right to an impartial jury when it declined to poll the jury.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court’s decision was correct.