Medical Malpractice Defendant Rushes To Aid of Stricken Iowa Juror

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: mistrial.

Mary E. Jack v. Jennifer R. Booth and John Gerrad Sweetman. IA mistrial

Two physicians, Dr. John Gerrad Sweetman and Dr. Jennifer R. Booth, were being sued in Polk County, Iowa, District Court for alleged medical malpractice. Each doctor was separately represented, and the jury instructions were that each doctor's conduct must be evaluated separately. While Dr. Booth was testifying, one of the jurors fainted. At first, nobody in the courtroom noticed, but as soon as Dr. Sweetman realized what was going on, he did what doctors do, namely, attend to the sick person. He talked to the juror, assessed her condition, and the juror layed down on one of the pews in the courtroom. After about 15 or 20 minutes, she was okay. The rest of the jurors witnessed what had happened, and remained in the room for about 2 or 3 minutes. At that point, they were asked to return to the juror lounge.

The trial judge, Douglas F. Staskal, ordered that juror removed from the case. However, he denied the plaintiff's motion for a mistrial. The trial continued, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of both of the doctors. The plaintiff then appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals. That court reversed, and held that a mistrial should have been ordered. Dr. Sweetman (the doctor who had assisted the stricken juror) apparently accepted the appellate court's ruling. But Dr. Booth sought review by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court looked closely at the jury instructions, and noted that the jurors were never asked to apportion fault between the two physicians. Each claim was independent. Therefore, the issues were not intertwined between the two defendants, and there was no reason to include Dr. Booth in Dr. Sweetman's retrial. The plaintiff argued that a new trial should have been granted against both defendants because Dr. Sweetman's humanitarian efforts benefited the entire profession. But the high court noted that people are tried as individuals, and not members of a class. The court noted that, carried to an extreme, this would mean that the jurors would have similar warm feelings toward the expert witnesses who testified on behalf of the plaintiff. For these reasons, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision, and reinstated the jury verdict in favor of Dr. Booth. Since Dr. Sweetman did not seek review in the Supreme Court, the case against him would be remanded for new trial.

Dr. Booth was represented on the appeal by Omaha attorneys Thomas J. Shomaker and Mark M. Schott.

No. 13-0257 (Iowa Jan. 23, 2015).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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