Ethier v. Fairfield MemorialAnnotate this Case
Petitioners Phillip and Jeanne Ethier appealed a verdict in favor of Respondent Dr. Guy Bibeau, who misdiagnosed a popliteal aneurysm as a probable spider bite. During voir dire, the court asked prospective jurors whether they ever had a "close social or a personal relationship" with either the Ethiers or Dr. Bibeau. After no one indicated they did, the court asked the same question about the list of potential witnesses, which included Jerilyn Wadford and Rhonda Gwynn, two nurses who examined Ethier, and the CEO of Fairfield Memorial, Mike Williams. To this question, juror Teresa Killian informed the court, "I used to work at Fairfield Memorial Hospital with Mike Williams." Killian never disclosed that she also worked with Bibeau or the two nurses. After trial, the Ethiers' counsel learned Killian previously worked with Bibeau and the nurses, and that Killian had discussed her knowledge of them with other jurors. One of the jurors, Sandra Carmichael, attested Killian stated she knew the nurses as well as Bibeau. Carmichael also noted that during jury breaks, Killian repeatedly discussed Bibeau's skills as a doctor. Four jurors said Killian vouched for the skill, proficiency, and truthfulness of all three during jury breaks. Carmichael testified that Killian's statements affected her vote, as she initially believed Bibeau was more negligent. Nevertheless, while the trial court found Killian had engaged in premature deliberations, it found no prejudice. The court also believed Killian did not intentionally conceal that she knew Bibeau and the three nurses through her previous employment, contending the question was ambiguous because it only addressed "close personal or social relationships." Accordingly, the trial court denied the Ethiers' motion for a new trial. Petitioners contended the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's decision to deny granting a new trial based on intentional juror concealment and premature deliberations. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded Killian's intentional disregard of the trial court's repeated instructions not to engage in premature deliberations directly affected the verdict. "Killian discussed matters that were not introduced as evidence, and bolstered other evidence that had been admitted. Further, Killian's conduct is egregious, as she repeatedly discussed the case after being instructed not to do so." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial.