Tennessee Court of Appeals Rules on Allegation of Judicial Bias

Williams v. HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, Tenn. Ct. App. (2015), was a case that involved a 79-year-old man who slipped and fell in a parking lot and then, after he was transported to the hospital, fell out of a bed.

The man’s family sued the hospital for malpractice, claiming that due to his disoriented state, he should have been restrained in the bed and that his fall from the bed contributed to a deterioration of his mental health and dementia.

The plaintiff/patient was a local television show host of a popular children’s magic show. At trial, counsel for the plaintiff sought to introduce, apparently without prior notice to the defendants, a video montage that contained pictures of the plaintiff throughout his life, first as a child and later photos of the plaintiff during his career.

The judge watched the video prior to making a decision as to whether it would be shown to the jury. During the viewing, the judge became overcome with emotion and took a brief respite to collect himself. He then decided to allow the video into evidence.

The jury ultimately returned a unanimous decision for the defendants.

The plaintiffs then requested the judge to grant an appeal by serving as a 13th juror. At this time, the defendants motioned that the judge removes himself, on the basis that his emotions were clouding his judgment, rendering him too biased to adjudicate fairly.

The court next turned to the various standards regarding when a judge may be required to recuse himself. Essentially, the standard applies when the judge’s impartiality may be in question, or when others perceive the judge’s impartiality to be in question. It is not only the potential bias itself that may be blameworthy but also the appearance of bias that may mar the nature or perception of the judicial proceeding.

The purpose of the standard is to prevent a scenario in which the court is thought to have reached a decision based on some sort of prejudice or favor to one side. However, this standard is clear that the bias must arise from some sort of extrajudicial source, and “not from events or observations during litigation of a case.”

Therefore, the defendants had the burden of demonstrating that the bias did not originate solely from the nature of the case being litigated, but from some other motivation. The court found that, based on the fact that the initial act was followed by a verdict for the defendants, and that the judge had not made a ruling at the time the motion for recusal was made, the defendants failed to meet their burden regarding bias.

If the bias is alleged to stem from events occurring in the course of the litigation of the case, the party seeking recusal has a greater burden to show the bias that would require recusal, in other words, that the bias is so pervasive that it is sufficient to deny the litigant a fair trial.

Thus, the order denying the defendants’ motion for recusal was affirmed.

As this case illustrates, it can be difficult to prove negligence under the standards set forth by Tennessee law in some cases. However, a skilled slip and fall lawyer can identify the most favorable facts to a plaintiff in order to present the best possible case to a judge or jury. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries because of somebody else’s negligence or wrongdoing, contact the Nashville injury attorneys at MHPS. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today by emailing info@mhpslaw.com, or call (615) 800-7096.

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