(Oct. 20, 2009) The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld a trial court decision to vacate a jury verdict because of a juror's Internet search regarding the defendant in the case.
After receiving a summons and questionnaire for a wrongful death case, a juror used Google to find out information about the case's defendant, a seatbelt manufacturer. The summons requested potential jurors not to seek evidence about the case. The juror did not disclose the search during jury selection, and was chosen to serve on the jury. During jury deliberations, he briefly disclosed to other jurors the Google search and information obtained from it, namely that he did not find evidence that the defendant had previously been sued for defective seat belts. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial based on jury misconduct. The trial court found that the juror's statements were impermissible extraneous evidence that prejudiced the jury and vacated the jury verdict pursuant to a state law that permits a verdict to be set aside where extraneous prejudicial information is considered by a jury during deliberations.
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to set aside the jury verdict. It found that the information the juror told to other jurors was in the nature of extrinsic information that should not have been considered by the jury, because it was specific to the defendant, was relevant to evidence introduced at trial, and was not subject to cross-examination. The court also affirmed the trial court's finding that the plaintiffs were prejudiced by the jury's consideration of this information. (Russo v. Takata Corp., No. 24726 (S.D. Sept. 16, 2009), available at http://www.sdjudicial.com/opinions/downloads/y2009/24726.pdf.)