On December 31, a New Jersey appeals court ruled that a chatty juror and a momentary conversation with a medical expert following testimony was not enough for a mistrial, or to disturb the Plaintiff’s $425,000 verdict. Jim Martin of Martin Kane Kuper was Plaintiff’s attorney in this case.
“Despite interaction between juror and witness, a new trial is not necessary in every instance where it appears that an individual juror has been exposed to an outside influence,” said the Appellate Division in Lukenda v. Grunberg. The appellate panel also affirmed the trial judge’s rejection of an intoxication defense in the case, which flowed from a boozy encounter between two friends.
On Christmas night, 2010, Defendant Michelle Grunberg sent Plaintiff Richard Lukenda a text message inviting him to her parents’ home. Upon his arrival, Defendant drank a glass of wine while Plaintiff had Scotch. When Plaintiff attempted to leave, Defendant and her parents stopped him, alleging that he was too intoxicated to drive. At this point, an altercation ensued in which Plaintiff alleged that Defendant performed a kind of martial arts kick to his right knee, sustaining tears to his ACL and lateral meniscus, requiring three corrective surgeries. Defendant alleged that Plaintiff sustained the injury while playing Nintendo Wii bowling.
At trial, Plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Wendell Scott, testified that the knee injuries resulted from lateral force, and noted that Plaintiff suffered permanent damage that could lead to arthritis.
During a break, one of the jurors had a brief exchange with Scott. The juror apparently said something like “you are a great teacher” and smiled. After the defense moved for a mistrial, the judge questioned the juror, and found no improper influence as a result of the exchange. The recent ruling affirms the trial judge’s decision, and leaves the verdict for our client intact.