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Thomas v. Mercy Hospitals East Communities

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

August 1, 2017

THADDEUS THOMAS, a Minor, by and through his Next Friend, Marlin Thomas, and MARLIN THOMAS and MA SHERYLL JOY THOMAS, Individually, Appellants,
v.
MERCY HOSPITALS EAST COMMUNITIES, d/b/a MERCY HOSPITAL-WASHINGTON, and MERCY CLINIC EAST COMMUNITIES, Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Franklin County, Missouri Honorable Gael D. Wood, Judge

          Laura Denvir Stith, Judge

         Plaintiffs appeal the judgment entered by the trial court in favor of defendant hospitals following a jury trial. Plaintiffs allege the trial court abused its discretion by failing to strike for cause prospective juror 24 because she expressed a disqualifying bias in favor of defendants under section 494.470.1.[1] This Court does not agree. Prospective juror 24 did not say she had knowledge concerning the "matter or any material fact in controversy" from which to form an opinion requiring her disqualification under subsection 1. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding, without additional questioning, she was rehabilitated when the entire voir dire was considered, including her later statement that she could follow the trial court's instructions. See section 494.470.2. The trial court was in the best position to determine whether the prospective juror was disqualified. This Court affirms.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 13, 2013, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging medical negligence in connection with the Caesarean-section delivery of Thaddeus Thomas, claiming defendants caused him to sustain brain damage. During voir dire, plaintiffs' counsel informed the venire panel, "[T]his case involves Mercy Clinics, Mercy Clinic Physicians, as the defendant and Mercy Clinic Hospital. Just knowing that they are defendants in this case, is there anyone that feels they might start off the case a little bit more in favor of one party or the other?" Prospective juror 24 raised her hand, and the following exchange took place:

JUROR: Is Big St. John's and this hospital affiliated?
PL COUNSEL: Probably - well, you called it St. John's, and I used to call them St. John's because I grew up in Missouri. But I think - I would -
JUROR: It's Mercy.
PL COUNSEL: Yeah, that's it, right.
JUROR: But it used to be called St. John's so.
PL COUNSEL: Right. And you will - the child was eventually transferred to Mercy, Big Mercy as you called it, at some point.
JUROR: That's what they call it.
PL COUNSEL: Okay. So the same question, because you know people there, know - have some knowledge of that and a relationship with that organization indirectly, would you tend to give them more credibility or that defendant maybe, in this case the local one, start off -
JUROR: I don't think so.
PL COUNSEL: Okay. I think I hear where you're going with this, but as a lawyer, I have to try to make sure things are clear. You say you don't think so, but later on you did decide you were - they started off a step in advance, that would be -
JUROR: Well, I've heard my sister have lots of opinions of St. John's so, you know.
PL COUNSEL: So ultimately, can you sit through this whole case without starting off a little bit in favor of Mercy or St. John's, as you call them, or would you start off with them having a touch in favor of them?
JUROR: I don't - maybe - yeah, probably.
PL COUNSEL: Maybe you would be slightly in favor of them?
JUROR: Yep, probably.
PL COUNSEL: Okay. And, you know, that's - that's all I'm trying to get is the best answer you can give, and you seem ...

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