Times Article Did not Require Polling of Jury
(CN) - Jurors who cleared a mental hospital on a patient's suicide need not have been polled about a New York Times article on the case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.
The 2007 article in the Times described the life of Ruth A. Farrell, a 41-year-old librarian from Westport who lost her battle with painkiller addiction and depression in 2002. Over the years, she had 18 stays at Silver Hill Hospital, which the Times reported has treated music stars Billy Joel and Mariah Carey.
David Kervick, the executor of Farrell's estate, sued Silver Hill and psychologist Ellen Shander for medical malpractice and wrongful death. According to the Times, Kervick was a former Silver Hill patient with whom she "maintained a close relationship despite warnings by her doctor that she should stay away from him."
The Times also reported that Silver Hill fired back with a countersuit that Kervick himself contributed to Farrell's death. The article included allegations from the defendants' lawyers that Kervick undermined Farrell's psychiatric case and treated her abusively.
Kervick claimed that the hospital reduced its supervision of Farrell from full time to every 15 minutes, and that she hanged herself with her pants over the bathroom door of her hospital room during one of these intervals. Kervick also said Shander had reversed another doctor's order to keep Farrell's bathroom door locked.
According to the Times, Farrell's fate was not hard to predict. She was named after a grandmother who committed suicide, and she started cutting herself in high school. She even tried to kill herself years earlier in the same room at Silver Hill where she died.
The Times published its article after the jury had been selected but before it had examined evidence. Kervick's attorney asked the judge to question the jurors over whether they had read the article.
The judge refused, the trial proceeded and the hospital won the case.
A panel of the Connecticut Appellate Court found, however, that the inflammatory nature of the article was enough to demand a new trial.
The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed on Aug. 13, stating that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to poll the jury.
It was enough that the court clerk instructed jurors to avoid media coverage of the trial, according to the 25-page ruling.
"The plaintiff did not present any evidence tending to show or raising a possibility to the trial judge that any of the jurors had read or discussed that article," Justice Dennis Eveleigh wrote for the mostly unanimous court. Thus, because there is not a clear indication to the contrary, we must presume that the jurors followed the instruction to avoid media coverage," Eveleigh wrote.
Justice Richard Palmer did not join with his four colleagues but instead wrote an opinion concurring in the result.
The trial court "was required to take some action to address the detailed and highly inflammatory newspaper article," Palmer wrote.
In the future, a judge should be the one to tell jurors to stay away from media reports, he added.