4.75 Million Jury Verdict to Stand – Supreme Court Will Not Overturn Case of the “Blogging Juror” in Eskew v. Metra and BNSF Railway Co.

While the widespread use of the internet has provided many benefits to the legal community, e.g. online case law, electronic court dockets, etc., it has also brought some challenges. Take for instance the case of Eskew v. Burlington Northern.pdf. In Eskew, the defendants requested a retrial after discovering that one of the jurors had blogged about the trial.

At the Illinois wrongful death trial of Eskew, the jury awarded $4.75 million to the widow of Scott Eskew, a legally blind man who was killed by a train at a Berwyn Metra stop. The estate and family were represented by attorneys Michael Rathsack and Jay Paul Deratney. However, following the wrongful death trial, it was discovered that one of the female jurors had been posting blogs regarding the trial and jury deliberations while the trial was still going on.

Not only did the defendants argue that the blog posts violated the general jury instruction of not talking about the trial while it is going on, but also showed other discrepancies in the jury’s behavior. The defendants requested that the trial judge launch an evidentiary investigation into the juror’s blog and the alleged juror misconduct. However, the trial court denied this request; it is this denial that is at the issue of the defendants’ appeal.

In its appeal, the defendants argued that the blog clearly showed that the jury’s integrity had been compromised based on its claims that:

(1) the jurors incorrectly discussed the case amongst themselves before the deliberation began;
(2) one juror stated that she had made up her mind before all the evidence was presented; and
(3) the blogging juror discussed the case with her husband during the trial.

According to the defendants, the jury’s verdict was “contaminated” because of the above-alleged misconduct and a new wrongful death trial was necessary to correct the contaminated verdict.

However, the Illinois Appellate Court disagreed with the defendants and instead found that the defense had not adequately shown that the juror’s blog or the jury’s actions had biased the jury verdict. To support its decision, the appellate court referred to People v. Runge, 234 Ill. 2d 68 (2009), which stated that every incident of jury misconduct does not require a new trial.

In order for there to be enough cause for a new trial, the challenging party must show that the jury was prejudiced by the outside information and that it directly influenced the verdict. People v. Willmer.pdf. And while the challenging party does not need to prove that the jury was actually prejudiced, it does need to show that “the extraneous information bears on a crucial issue in the case and may have improperly influenced the verdict.” Stallings v. Black & Decker.pdf.

However, in Eskew, the defendants did not show that the juror’s blogging improperly influenced the verdict. They appellate court failed to find any evidence suggesting that “the jurors were exposed to improper extraneous information bearing on the crucial issues in the case.” Therefore, while the juror might have behaved improperly, it was not cause to overturn the $4.75 million jury verdict. It is important to note that since the juror blogging incident in Eskew, the Illinois jury instructions have been amended to include an instruction that jurors are not to write anything on the internet about cases they hear at trial.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois train accidents lawsuits and wrongful death matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Streamwood, Crestwood, Bridgeview, Arlington Heights, and Hoffman Estates.

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