Superior Court affirms jury verdict not result of coercion in ceiling collapse case

By Sara McCleary | Dec 21, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – In a decision filed Dec. 8, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed that a lower court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to end deliberations after a jury claimed it was deadlocked.

PHILADELPHIA – In a decision filed Dec. 8, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed that a lower court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to end deliberations after a jury claimed it was deadlocked.

Judge Jack A. Panella penned the court’s decision in which the court disagreed with the appellant Anthony Berry’s argument that the court coerced the verdict by instructing the jury to continue deliberating after it indicated that it was unable to reach a verdict twice over four days.

The trial took place in April 2016. Berry had filed suit against Elite Property Management and Lasalle Properties alleging that they failed to properly maintain a building, leading to a ceiling collapse that caused Berry to sustain serious injuries.

According to the decision, the jury began deliberations on April 19, 2016, and late morning April 21, 2016, informed the court that they were deadlocked on question one. 

The court instructed the jurors to continue deliberating, and the following afternoon they again told the court they were deadlocked. At this point, the court dismissed the jurors for the weekend, asking them to deliberate one more time on Monday and if they still could not reach a verdict, it would consider declaring them hopelessly deadlocked.

The Superior Court found that although the jury had said it was deadlocked, “they never indicated they were hopelessly deadlocked,” reads Panella’s decision. “Nor is the time of deliberations and rendering of the verdict here an aberration in the case law.”

When deliberations resumed after the second indication of a deadlock, the jury asked to hear the charge again, “as they were interested ‘in the instructions regarding weighing the evidence, lack of evidence, witness credibility,’” according to the opinion. 

The court read the charge then reminded the jurors not to violate their own beliefs, or change their opinion just to return a verdict. The jury returned a verdict that afternoon.

The Superior Court felt that the trial court had been careful and methodical in its instruction of the jury, and that the request for instruction “strongly suggests the jurors moved past their deadlock.” It rejected the appellant’s argument that the verdict was the result of a fatigued jury.

Judges Alice Beck Dubow and James J. Fitzgerald III concurred.

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