Back in 2013 I wrote here and here about a Hinds County medical malpractice trial where the bailiff gave the wrong set of written jury instructions to the jury during deliberations. Here is how I described it:
After reading the instructions to the jury, Judge Weill placed them on the bench so the parties could use them in closing argument. At some point, the official set disappeared. They hadn’t turned up when the attorneys were in the courtroom late Friday afternoon. [One of the Plaintiff’s attorneys later found them in his briefcase, along with a very stale tuna salad sandwich and his missing tickets to the 2007 Ole Miss vs. LSU game].
When the jury went to deliberate a bailiff looked for the jury instructions. He found a set back over in the neighborhood where a law clerk often sits on the other side of the bench away from the jury. That would be the defense set. The bailiff then delivered the found defense set to the jury.
The Court caught the problem when Judge Weill’s staff went to retrieve the jury instructions so they could be filed. [by that point, the jury was in the wind].
The trial court ordered a new trial, but later rescinded the order based on Defendant’s argument that a high/low settlement agreement barred a new trial. The Plaintiff appealed.
A unanimous Miss. Supreme Court reversed with Justice Lamar writing the Court’s opinion. Here is the Court’s opinion.
The Court reasoned that the verdict was not valid. The basis for this finding was precedent stating that a verdict with irregularities present is void. From the opinion:
It is difficult to imagine a scenario more prejudicial to a party than what occurred here. The jury mistakenly was provided a copy of the defendants’ proffered instructions–some of which had been withdrawn, and some of which had been outright denied–and the first instruction they read told them to find for the defendants…
Since there was no valid verdict, the condition precedent to a high/low agreement (a verdict) was not met. Therefore, Plaintiff gets a new trial.
I guess I need to re-think my opinion that juries don’t pay much attention to the instructions.
It’s been three years and I still think it’s funny.