Jurors misbehaving have been making a lot of news headlines lately. And jurors’ online research is one of the most commonly reported problems in this area.
In May 2014, for example, a jury awarded the plaintiff, a former police officer, $300,000 in compensatory damages and $7.2 million in punitive damages based on its finding of unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation. The employer appealed the judgment after a juror acknowledged that, during deliberations, he Googled the phrase, “where do punitive damages go” and, after reading a Wikipedia entry on the subject, told his fellow jurors that the plaintiff would receive some or all of such an award.
Delaware has not been immune from this problem. In May, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a final judgment following a jury verdict due to alleged juror misconduct. In Baird v. Owczark, the plaintiff moved for a new trial on several grounds, including juror misconduct. In the two weeks after the jury had delivered its verdict, one of the jurors wrote a letter to the trial judge informing him that another juror had conducted online research during deliberations.
The court heard oral argument about the alleged misconduct but did not conduct an investigation. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the Delaware Constitution mandates an investigation following allegations of juror misconduct. Such an investigation is mandatory even where the trial court gave clear instructions regarding the use of the Internet as a source of extrinsic information.
Baird v. Owczark, No. 504 (Del. May 28, 2014).