It’s never ok for Google to be your lawyer. Nor is it ok for Google to be your doctor, dentist, accountant, amateur arborist or veterinarian. You get the picture.
But Google and the internet are a wealth of information. That information can be very helpful at times. At other times, it can be very dangerous. So dangerous in fact just doing a simply Google search as a juror can be cause for a mistrial in an Ontario car accident case.
How could this possibly happen? How could something as innocent as a Google search impact a personal injury case?
Enter the recent Ontario Superior Court case of Patterson et. al. v. Peladeau 2018 ONSC 2625
After 8 weeks of evidence, closing arguments and a jury charge, the jury deliberated for five days before returning with a verdict.
Let’s first absorb those facts:
- Evidence + Closing Arguments + Jury Charge took 8 weeks!!!!!
- Jury Deliberations took 5 days!!!!
When people ask their personal injury lawyer why their case takes so long to go through the legal system, just think about how long this trial took. If every personal injury case takes that much trial time, then no wonder the wait time gets so long.
The weekend before the Jury began to deliberate, juror #1 (let’s call him “internet Juror“) took to the internet to do some legal research on his own. I don’t blame him for doing some research on his own. Seems like a natural reaction having listened to evidence in a car accident case for 8 weeks.
In his research, he discovered a regulation under the Insurance Act called the Fault Determination Rules.
That Monday morning, Internet Juror began to share his findings with the rest of the jury pool.
This resulted in a jury question conveyed to the Judge in a note to the Court which sought directions about the Fault Determination Regulations.
It was clear to the lawyers and the Judge involved that someone on the jury had done their own digging, and had now in some way changed the focus of the jury. The jury now focused on the term “illegally parked” which came from the Fault Determination Rules, and not from the trial itself. From the Plaintiff’s perspective, focusing on that term jaded the jury’s opinion of the evidence presented over the 8 weeks of trial.
Following discussions with the lawyers, it was agreed that the Fault Determination Regulations were irrelevant to the liability issue posed in this particular case. This is why it was not discussed during trial. These rules dealt with rules for insurers in adjusting property damage claims; like which insurer will pay for the damage to a car damaged in a car accident. They did not deal with liability for a personal injury case which is what this trial was all about.
In his response to Jury Questions, the Honourable Justice Hackland stated:
“The jury question reflects that a jury member has accessed the internet to look at laws and regulations. As I instructed you at the opening of the trial, it is completely improper to research of Google law and there must be no re occurrence of this. Your verdict must be based exclusively on the evidence entered into the record in this trial..There is to be no independent research conducted by any juror.”
After rendering their result, the Plaintiff sought a mistrial based on internet juror’s conduct, and his sharing his findings with the rest of the jury pool.
The Honourable Justice Hackland refused the Plaintiff’s motion for a mistrial stating:
“ I believe that the answers provided by juror number one yesterday adequately reflect that no other jurors were involved in accessing internet information….In my opinion, considering all of the circumstances, the problem which arises from the internet information can be adequately remediated, or addressed at least, by a proper response to the jury questions combined with a strong admonition about impropriety of any further efforts to research the case outside the four corners of evidentiary record.”
But this begs the question: In the information age, is it wrong for a juror to seek out information on their own?
Why should a juror be limited to asking questions only of a Judge?
Are these limitations on juries accessing information in place because we think that juries are stupid and cannot be trusted?
Why don’t juries have the same freedoms to seek out information as regular citizens?
If jurors cannot be trusted to seeking out information, then how can they be trusted to render decisions in Court cases?
This is perplexing, even for a lawyer.
What’s particularly upsetting is that information in car accident cases is ALWAYS hidden from a jury!
Here is a common fact that is NEVER disclosed to a jury in a car accident case, but every Judge and Lawyer in the Courtroom knows, but cannot share with the jury at trial:
- There is a verbal threshold for pain and suffering in car accident cases. If a Judge doesn’t deem the Plaintiff’s injuries to be both “serious & permanent” then the Plaintiff gets ZERO; even if the car accident isn’t their fault.
- There is a deductible on all awards for pain and suffering below $126,610.07 of $37,983.33
- There is a cap on pain and suffering claims in Canada which sits at around $370,000.
Taking all of this in to consideration, if a Jury awards an innocent injured Plaintiff $100,000 for his/her pain and suffering cased by an at fault drunk driver, that award gets reduced buy $37,983.33 automatically; without the Jury even knowing!!!!
That money is saved by the insurance company. It vanishes in to thin air. The insurer gets a $37,983.33 credit on each and every pain and suffering claim in the province! And personal injury lawyers aren’t even allowed to share the fact the the jury at trial!
So, what’s backwards here? The jury doing a bit of research to get their questions answered, or the system we have in place to withhold valuable information from the jury so that their will cannot be properly imposed.
Either way you look at it, the Patterson v. Peladeau decision makes a good case for civil juries in car accident cases to be abolished.