Smith v. Cordero, 2019 Pa. Super. LEXIS 1141 (Pa. Super. Nov. 15, 2019)

It was reversible error for trial court to deny motions to strike two jurors for cause when the judge was not present during voir dire and did not personally assess their tones of voice and demeanor.

In this medical malpractice case, three jurors expressed views during during voir dire that medical malpractice lawsuits negatively affect the cost of medical care and that there should be a maximum amount of money awardable to injured parties. The trial judge was not present during voir dire. The plaintiff moved to strike all three jurors for cause, and the trial judge granted the motion for one of the jurors, but denied the other two. The plaintiff then used his last preemptory strike, and the remaining juror became an alternate. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, which the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial judge committed reversible error when he “arbitrarily denied” the motion to strike for cause because the judge did not witness the jurors’ conduct and demeanor during voir dire. The Superior Court reversed and remanded, holding that the jurors “expressed the slightest ground of prejudice,” and despite their statements that they could follow the court’s instructions and be fair and impartial, the jurors should have been dismissed because the judge was not present to assess their tones of voice and demeanor. As such, the trial judge’s ruling was reversible error and the case was remanded for a second trial.


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