In Pellicer v. St. Barnabas Hospital, — N.J. –, 2009 WL 2185492 (2009), a $71 million award was entered by the trial court for a serious brain injury to a four month old allegedly deprived of oxygen because of endotracheal tube problems following spinal surgery. The defendants appealed on the grounds that there had been cumulative errors and uneven treatment of the parties by the trial judge.
The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants and specifically found that the jury pool had been tainted by a voir dire process that permitted the entire jury pool to hear numerous comments critical of the specific hospital where the infant was treated and hospitals, doctors and health care providers in general. Rather than conduct sidebars to explore biases of the jurors, the trial court permitted the potential jurors to air their thoughts about medical providers in open court. As a result the Supreme Court had “no confidence” that the jury could disspassionately consider the highly emotional facts presented.
Additionally, the Supreme Court cited other errors that pervaded the trial as well including the trial court’s acquiescence to the plaintiff’s repeated use of inappropriate and irrelevant considerations that inflamed the jury and unequal treatment of the parties in various rulings.