Google Research Disqualifies Juror

So what happens when a juror uses Google to investigate a corporate defendant’s involvement in other litigation? In South Dakota, it gets the jury verdict set aside.

The case involved allegations that the defendant, Takata Corp. manufactured defective seat belts. A juror Googled Takata and discovered that it had never been sued for defective seat belts. The juror didn’t mention that bit of research during voire dire and he shared his findings with other jurors.

The problem with that is the law in South Dakota (and in just about every other jurisdiction) that jurors are to decide cases only on the evidence presented at the trial. A jury is not allowed to consider “extrinsic evidence.” In this case, the South Dakota Supreme Court considered the Google research “extrinsic.”

The information was actually pretty important. One major issue in the trial was whether the manufacturer was on notice of the defects. The court found that the juror’s information about no other lawsuits unfairly influenced the jury’s ultimate verdict in favor of the manufacturer.

This case is one more example that things aren’t radically different in an online world. Extrinsic evidence is extrinsic evidence, no matter how the jury gets it. Courts routinely tell jurors not to look at newspaper or television accounts of the trial. Seems like it goes without saying they shouldn’t be doing Google research either.