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tl;dr: How do courts redress jury decisions when evidence of jury bias is present?

Example case I know from Georgia: victim hit by a drunk driver. The players and timeline below.

Plaintiff (victim) is a female of a different race of the jury as was her attorney. The victims had an attorney who asked her to increase the percent of the award under the contract because he needed help getting the case settled. That lawyer told her she would have a team of two working on the case. The first lawyer wound up not working on the case after she agreed to the increase and he essentially handed the case to the other attorney. The victim had documents proving medical visits, lost wages, and medical bills.

The defendant (drunk driver) had numerous attorneys appointed by the insurance agency that extended the case out over six years. The last lawyer was a female of the same race as the jury. The defendant, the drunk driver, did not appear in court. The defendant never spent a dime on legal fees and never showed up in court. The insurance company paid for an attorney to represent her; the insurance company could not be mentioned during the hearing.

The attorney for the victim offers a settlement to the insurance company. The settlement was for the legal limit of $25K under GA law. At the hearing, he requested a judgement of $80k.

The defendant's insurance company attorney counters the offer for $12K in writing before the hearing and $15k the day of trial. The first written offer refers to a legal code that would make the plaintiff pay the legal fees if the Jury does not award at least 75% of the offer.

Neither party accepted the other's offer to settle.

The jury was composed entirely of a different race than the plaintiff; it had all women except for one male and was not a diversified group.

The jury asked a question because some invoices were not attached to a statement and wanted to impeach the victim's testimony. (Note: the total amount of the medical expenses and individual bills were listed on the statement.) Victim's attorney objected and motioned jury bias based on that question, which was denied by the judge. The jury ruled in favor for the victim with an award of only $500. My research shows that investigate questions by a jury and trying to impeach a witness does show bias but I could not find the code, only legal articles.

The victim felt that was an inadequate amount and wanted to appeal the decision. The victim's attorney refused to file an appeal or any motions that the victim requested stating that judges almost never overturn a jury's verdict. The victim wanted to file a motion on her behalf. She was not able to file the motion because she was under contract with her attorney and if she fired him she was liable for all of his fees. The lawyer informed her that the verdict has made her obligated to pay the insurance company back their legal fees. (Note: The victim did not file a lawsuit against the insurance company she filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver.)

My research shows that you can file a motion for the judge to give a Judgement notwithstanding a verdict and additur the amount of the award. There were numerous reasons this would be allowed jury bias was one of them. Jury prejudice is another.

The final settlement was the victim take the $500 and not file an appeal; both attorneys threatened her with the obligation to pay their legal fees if she did anything else. I could not find anything that allowed the victim out of the contract with her attorney and to act on her own behalf without being obligated to pay her lawyer his legal fees.

  • I told the victim to appeal, but the attorney advised against it and instead told her to agree not to appeal in lieu of the insurance company not coming after her for legal fees. – lizphenix Oct 11 '16 at 10:58
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    Perhaps a second opinion is in order, although we can't give it here :( – Pat W. Oct 11 '16 at 14:32
  • The matter is settled now, too late and that was not my case it was a relatives case. I was of the opinion it was a horrible injustice because I know what kind of pain and discomfort that wreck caused her. The victim just decided to drop any appeal if the insurance company did not pursue legal fees. So I will edit it because I am very curious how someone else would have handled it. – lizphenix Oct 11 '16 at 21:11
  • You'll probably have to edit it quite a bit more to get it reopened. How about whittling it down to just the facts relevant to your question, followed by a readable question? – feetwet Oct 11 '16 at 22:06
  • I apologize for not following the rules. I made some changes and I am really trying to get this right. I tried to organize questions and divided into three sections. 1. Impartial Jury 2. Appeals 3 Dealing with the attorney – lizphenix Oct 12 '16 at 21:47
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There is no legal requirement that a jury be composed of people demographically like the defendant (or the plaintiff), there is simply a requirement that the selection process give all kinds of people an equal chance at being empaneled. So being a different race or gender from one of the parties is not prima facie evidence of a biased jury.

The statement that "The jury asked a question because some invoices were not attached to a statement and wanted to impeach the victim's testimony" is somewhat puzzling, since Georgia is widely cited as a state where jurors are forbidden to ask questions. Let us suppose though that jurors manage to communicate an interest in knowing a fact, such as "Do you have an invoice for X?", then the judge could decide whether that is a proper question. At that point, it moves from being a jury matter to a legal judge matter, and if the question was itself highly prejudicial, the case could be overturned on appeal. Alternatively, the way in which the question was framed by the jury could be proof of bias, e.g. "Please ask that lying %@!^* defendant to prove her ridiculous story". The defense attorney has entered an objection (if you don't object, you can't appeal), and perhaps if the question was legally improper then the verdict could be set aside. If the attorney failed to move for mistrial (if the question proves blatant bias) then that's the end of the matter, except for a possible action against the attorney.

The implied questions about attorney conduct are hard to understand. An attorney may refuse to engage in a futile legal act, but this does not preclude an individual from seeking another attorney to file a motion or even attempting to file a motion on one's own (which is probably a futile act). However, I also assume that the victim did not have her own attorney and that this was a case between two insurance companies about individuals – a third party claim. In this case, the attorney represents the insurance company, not the victim, and has to be responsible to the interests of the insurance company. The attorney thus is obligated to not cost the insurance company a packet of money if there is no realistic chance of getting anything in return. The alternative would have been be to engage (and pay) your (her) own attorney.

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